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Fort Report Column: The Oath of Office

January 9, 2017

On January 3, I took the Oath of Office as a member of the United States House of Representatives. This is my constitutional duty.

The day of swearing in on Capitol Hill is marked by celebration, as well as by the renewal of friendships, even between people with deep disagreements. Families and guests gather to share in the moment’s excitement and meaning. Members of Congress congratulate one another and take a reprieve from the intensity of policy debate. But amidst the swirl of activity, the day is set apart by the oath of office. The oath lays down a clear marker of the serious obligation ahead.

In our day and time, we are no longer connected to the deeper concept of an oath. We see it in the courtroom when someone is required to tell the truth. We see it when the President is sworn in. But we rarely take time to reflect on its deeper sense. We see it more like an old tradition, a time-honored nostalgic exercise. However, the oath is a solemn declaration. It is a pause, the start of sacred duty. By taking an oath, you effectively hold yourself as ransom. You commit, at the deepest levels, that you will perform these tasks to the best of your ability. It is the ultimate measure and test of integrity. If violated, you tear the center of being to the detriment of yourself and of the community. This is a very high bar.

I am reminded of the words of Sir Thomas More, who was the Lord High Chancellor of England from 1529 to 1532. He strove to live a life worthy of excellence in public service, but was eventually put to death by the state. In an earlier reflection on the idea of the oath, he said, “When a man takes an oath, he’s holding his own self in his own hands like water, and if he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again.”

Throughout the day of the swearing in, I was reflecting on a singular word: replenishment. Our American system of government has an extraordinary capacity to replenish itself with new ideas, new people, and a refreshed perspective. Our political system starts with the belief that political power is derived from each person’s dignity. By voting, citizens invest their power in representatives to make judgments on their behalf. But to earn that right, a representative must first state their case to the people. In spite of the drama, in spite of the raucous nature of elections, the fact that America goes through this cycle of constant replenishment is an extraordinary gift.

As I stood in the center aisle of the United States House of Representatives, I raised my right hand and along with the other new members of the 115th Congress of the United States of America took the Oath of Office:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”