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The Last Word
updated 3/11/2013 10:47:57 PM ET 2013-03-12T02:47:57

Conservatives are angered that CIA director John Brennan used a version of the Constitution with George Washington's annotations instead of the tradition Bible during his swearing in ceremony. That draft of the Constitution did not include the bill of rights.

John Brennan’s swearing-in ceremony as director of the CIA has angered conservatives over Brennan’s decision to take the oath by placing his hand on the Constitution and not the Bible, as most most politicians do. During a private ceremony in the Roosevelt Room, Vice President Joe Biden swore Brennan in with his right hand raised and left hand placed “on an original draft of the Constitution that had George Washington’s personal handwriting and annotations on it, dating from 1787,” according to White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, as he told reporters at their daily briefing.

“Director Brennan told the president that he made the request to the archives because he wanted to reaffirm his commitment to the rule of law as he took the oath of office as director of the CIA,” Earnest elaborated.

A conservative blog, which The Weekly Standard linked to, pointed out that the version of the Constitution Brennan took the oath under does not include the Bill of Rights, invalidating Brennan’s oath to protect and defend the Constitution. “That means, when Brennan vowed to protect and defend the Constitution, he was swearing on one that did not include the First, Fourth, Fifth, or Sixth Amendments—or any of the other Amendments now included in our Constitution. The Bill of Rights did not become part of our Constitution until 1791, 4 years after the Constitution that Brennan took his oath on.”

Another conservative outlet, Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, suggested an irony of Brennan’s document selection, although Brennan hasn’t explained his reasons for using an early version (if indeed he was making a statement in his choice):  “The irony of the document selection given the current controversy surrounding the federal government’s drone program is noteworthy regardless. The Bill of Rights includes the right to due process (Fifth Amendment) and the right to trial by jury (Sixth Amendment), both key issues in the heated debate over drone strikes.”

The government’s drone program and its use in the fight against terrorists were a contentious concern for Republicans, especially Senator Rand Paul, during Brennan’s Senate confirmation. After Senator Paul’s nearly 13-hour-long filibuster on Wednesday to obtain an answer from the Obama administration on whether the executive branch has the authority to issue a drone strike on a non-combatant American citizen inside the U.S., the White House and Attorney Eric Holder sent a concise letter to Paul, reiterating his answer on the drone question.

It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: “Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?” The answer to that question is no.

Sincerely,

Eric H. Holder, Jr.

After voting against Brennan, Paul stated, “We worked very hard on a constitutional question to get an answer from the president. It may have been a littler harder than we wish it had been, but in the end I think it was a good healthy debate for the country to finally get an answer that the Fifth Amendment applies to all Americans.”

The Constitution does not require a president to take the oath of office by swearing on a Bible, and several past presidents have not used a Bible for their swearing-in ceremonies. According to official records kept by the Architect of the Capitol, Teddy Roosevelt, during a rushed oath of office after William McKinley’s assassination, did not use a Bible. Lyndon B. Johnson was informally sworn in using a Catholic missal aboard Air Force One after President Kennedy was assassinated. John Quincy Adams also placed his hand on a constitutional law volume instead of a Bible and Franklin Pierce “affirmed” over swearing his oath on the Bible due to a loss of faith after his son’s death. As for the earlier presidents, it is still unknown if Bibles were used for inaugural ceremonies.

Article VI of the Constitution also ensures that Americans of any faith can hold public office. Paragraph states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” The same provision also states that such oaths vow support of the Constitution.

Historically, most CIA directors have taken their oaths on the Bible.

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