13 Dec 2015

The mayor of Franklin, N.C. was sworn in on a copy of the Constitution instead of the Bible last week: "As far as I'm concerned, there is no place in government for religion."

 Bob Scott has taken plenty of oaths in his decades of public service. He served in the Army as a public affairs officer, and flew many years with the Civil Air Patrol before spending ten years on the Franklin Board of Alderman. And all those times, he was sworn in the same way.
"Oh I always used a Bible, it was just sort of the customary thing," said Scott.
But before he took the oath of office for his second term as mayor of the town of Franklin this week, he'd been thinking of holding a different 'book' in his hand.
"I've thought about it for a long time," said Scott. "But I was talking to Summer [Franklin Town Manager] the other day and said I'm thinking about taking this oath on the Constitution. I realized we are taking an oath to defend the Constitution, pure and simple, and those are the laws of the land. And if I'm gonna give an oath, that's what I'm giving an oath to. It had nothing to do with religion--for or against--just swearing to protect and defend the Constitution."
The mayor is reserved about his own religious beliefs--"They're personal," he said with a laugh--but says for a man in his position, it shouldn't matter.
"I don't think it's a novel idea at all," Scott said, seemingly not intending the pun. "If you look back through history, I think there's a lot of people who've taken oath on the Constitution rather than a religious book. And even in Congress, a guy not too long ago took the oath on the Quran," said Scott, referencing Rep. Keith Ellison in 2007, who used a Quran in post-swearing in photo reenactment with Nancy Pelosi. (According to the deputy historian of the House of Representatives, no religious text is used during the official swearing in.)
"We do not represent any religion, what we represent are the laws of the land," Scott said. "As far as I'm concerned, there is no place in government for religion. I'm a secularist in that respect. I just don't think there's a place for any kind of religious doctrine in government, because we represent everybody."
Scott ran unopposed in last month's election, and won his first term in 2013 with 73% of the vote. He said faith has never been an issue during his time in government.
"A person's personal belief doesn't bother me. I don't even know what political party my board is, much less their religion. That's one thing I dearly love about municipal government in this state is we don't run as a member of a political party, I could never make it in Raleigh or Washington," he chuckled.
Town Manager Summer Woodard spoke highly of Scott's dedication to the nearly 5,000 residents of Franklin. "He's a good guy, hard working. He doesn't give himself enough credit."
"I love government," Scott beamed. "I love being able to go out the front door and meet the people I'm serving."
News 13 checked with the NC Department of Justice and the Buncombe County Clerk of Court's office for clarification on the law governing oaths.

The NCDOJ simply provided the link to NC General Statutes Chapter 11, where 11-4 states the person administering the oath "shall (except in the cases in this Chapter excepted) require the party to be sworn to lay his hand upon the Holy Scriptures."

Those exceptions include 11-3, referred to by one clerk as the "fire and brimstone" section:
When the person to be sworn shall be conscientiously scrupulous of taking a book oath in manner aforesaid, he shall be excused from laying hands upon, or touching the Holy Gospel; and the oath required shall be administered in the following manner, namely: He shall stand with his right hand lifted up towards heaven, in token of his solemn appeal to the Supreme God, and also in token that if he should swerve from the truth he would draw down the vengeance of heaven upon his head, and shall introduce the intended oath with these words, namely:
I, A.B., do appeal to God, as a witness of the truth and the avenger of falsehood, as I shall answer the same at the great day of judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be known (etc., as the words of the oath may be). 
During the mayor's swearing in, he does not say the bolded phrase above, but does say three different oaths, including those specified in 11-7 for "all officers to take."

A person who has "conscientious scruples" with taking an oath as described above has the option of affirmation in lieu of oath. In 11-3, a person "shall be permitted to be affirmed... by taking the same oath "except that the word "affirm" shall be substituted for the word "swear" and the words "so help me God" shall be deleted.""

The man who swore in the mayor--Macon County Clerk of Superior Court Vic Perry--said Scott's decision to use the Constitution in lieu of the Bible was a first for him.

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