It was quite a Moment when the anti-LGBTQ+ Mike Pence swore in Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona as the country's first bisexual senator on Thursday.
Not only did Sinema show up in an unforgettable Marilyn Monroe-meets Elle Woods-meets blonde Miss Frizzle outfit, but she swore on a law book containing the U.S. Constitution rather than a Bible. The book included the texts of the U.S. and Arizona constitutions, according to The Arizona Republic.
"Kyrsten always gets sworn in on a Constitution simply because of her love for the Constitution," her spokesperson John LaBombard told the newspaper.
There is no constitutional requirement for anyone being sworn into any government office to use a Bible, any religious text — or any text at all. You can use We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie if you like (and we kind of hope one day someone does). But most members of Congress still place their left hand on a Bible: While the 116th Congress is more religiously diverse than any before it, Christians are still overrepresented, at 88.2% compared to 71% of the U.S. adult population, according to a Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life study cited by Religion News.
"While the number of self-identified Christians in Congress has ticked down, Christians as a whole — and especially Protestants and Catholics — are still overrepresented in proportion to their share in the general public," according to Pew Research. "Indeed, the religious makeup of the new, 116th Congress is very different from that of the United States population."
Sinema broke the mold in more than one way on Thursday. The first Democrat since 1988 to win a Senate race in Arizona, as well as the first bisexual and second openly LGBTQ+ person in the Senate (along with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin), she can also count herself as the only member of Congress who openly considers themselves religiously unaffiliated.
That's a tiny sliver of Congress when you consider that 23% of Americans identify as either atheist, agnostic, or "nothing in particular." But it's a start, and it should have religious extremists like Mike Pence quaking in their shiny shoes.
Sinema's unaffiliated status may be an important first, but she's hardly the first government official to be sworn in on something other than a Bible. According to Religion News reporter Jack Jenkins, among others, John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, was sworn in on a "volume of law." Rep. Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii, the first person of the Hindu faith in Congress, used a Bhagavad Gita for her swearing-in. Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Buddhist, didn't use a book.
Simran Jeet Singh, a religion professor and Sikh advocate, tweeted a photo of the various books used to swear in members of the 116th Congress. "Check out the holy books being used to swear in new members," he wrote. "So beautiful to see Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus represented. This is also America."