On a recent broadcast of The View, former ABC news anchor Barbara Walters took issue with the practice of taking an oath on the Bible, asserting that it violates the separation of church and state.
During Thursday’s broadcast, Walters and others discussed a new campaign advertisement by Arkansas Senatorial candidate Mark Pryor, who states that the Bible is his “compass” and “North Star.”
“I’m not ashamed to say that I believe in God, and I believe in His word,” Pryor, a Democrat, declares in the television commercial. “It gives me comfort and guidance to do what’s best for Arkansas.”
“I think it’s really unfortunate when you have to bring religion into politics,” commented panelist and actor Jane Seymour, after viewing the advertisement. “I think religion is a very personal thing.”
Walters then chimed in.
“That is very true, but it starts almost with the oath of office, which usually ends with ‘So help me God,’” she said. “Now, most presidents swear on a Bible before taking office, even though we have the separation between church and state. You see it again and again. You don’t have to use a Bible.”
Walters began reading from her notes on presidents who chose not to take their oath on the Bible.
“Teddy Roosevelt didn’t,” she contended. “John Quincy Adams swore on a law book and Lyndon Johnson took the oath on a book he thought was the Bible. We don’t know what the book was.”
“The basic tenet in America is the separation,” Walters asserted. “It’s very important—the separation between church and state.”
While some like Walters believe that the separation of church and state is a concept that requires government officials to keep silent on religion, others believe that it rather prevents the government from interfering with the practices of the Church.
The American idea of separation of church and state originates from Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association.
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State,” Jefferson wrote.
The concept is now often used to decry public religious practices by civil officials, or instances of perceived government endorsement of religion.