Q. In the picture you ran of Bruce Rauner being sworn in as governor Tuesday, he is shown raising his left hand while placing his right hand on the Bible. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Did he make a mistake or did you accidentally flip the picture? — R.L., of Belleville
As you correctly point out, the left hand customarily is placed on the Bible because, tradition says, it is the one closest to the heart. The right hand is then raised as you’ll see in any swearing-in picture you hunt for — Barack Obama, Pat Quinn, etc.
And, if you carefully rewatch the ceremony on YouTube, that’s exactly what District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman of the state’s Northern District tries to get Rauner to do. After the massive Bible is taken out of its box and handed to Rauner’s wife, Rauner immediately starts to put his right hand on the Bible only to withdraw it as Coleman starts to speak.
“Raise your right hand; place your hand on the Bible,” she tells him.
Instead, he places his right hand on the Bible and leaves his left hand at his side.
“Raise your right hand,” she repeats, the drill firmly cemented in her mind.
He raises his left. Not wanting to make her moment in the spotlight more awkward, she gives up and administers the oath, leaving sharp-eyed people like you to spot the boo-boo.
But here’s the thing: While issuing Rauner his orders, Coleman is holding a tablet with the oath on it in her right hand and has her left hand raised. So the way I figure it, when Coleman asks him to raise his hand, he sees Coleman’s left hand raised and does likewise without thinking about the customary protocol.
On the other hand, maybe Rauner was trying to pull a George Costanza. Remember the “Seinfeld” episode in which George tries to turn his life around by doing everything the opposite of his expected behavior? Maybe, Rauner thought, well, Ryan, Blagojevich, et al., all did the raise-right, Bible-left and look where they wound up. Maybe this will be luckier.
Whatever the reason, the minor miscue did not affect the validity of the oath itself, a Rauner spokesman stressed. Nothing in the Illinois Constitution dictates which hand should be placed where, he said.
The same is true for the U.S. president. All Article II of the Constitution mandates is the administration of an oath. There’s no requirement of a Bible or even the familiar “so help me God” to solemnize it. In fact, at least three presidents took the oath sans Bible — John Quincy Adams, who took his on a book of constitutional law, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson, who, in the haste of the moment, wound up putting his hand on a Catholic missal of John Kennedy’s that Larry O’Brien had found on the plane and apparently mistook for a Bible.
By the way, raising your right hand during an oath-taking may have grown out of a legal practice in 17th-century London. Back then, there were few paper records kept of past misdeeds. Instead, according to the Washington State Bar Association, they branded the crime on the right thumb (e.g., M for murder). So if the criminal ever came before the court again and was asked to raise his right hand, the judge could see if he or she had ever been in trouble before to better mete out an appropriate sentence.
One final note: That massive Bible Rauner used was supplied by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. It had belonged to women’s rights proponent and philanthropist Susan Lawrence Dana, who lived from 1862 to 1946 and had famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright design what is now known as the Dana-Thomas House in Springfield.
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