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Florida Oath Gives Choice To Swear Or Affirm

Image taken from the 1955 movie "Illegal"

When public servants and lawmakers officially start their new terms in office they take an oath. It’s been the same since Florida became a state in 1845. But some people are still confused about the first few words.

This year, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labara officiated the swearing in ceremony at the Florida Senate. As a circuit judge he's also administered the oath to people testifying in court.

It always starts in pretty much the same way--with the words "I  solemnly swear or affirm."

That’s supposed to be a choice. Lawmakers may either swear or affirm their oath. But during the Senate ceremony some said both. Labarga says it’s probably because they were nervous.

"And they’re just hearing my words and repeating after me. Perhaps I should accentuate the word OR a little more," Labarga says.

Florida’s rules follow the U.S. Constitution, which specifies a president can say swear, but doesn’t have to.

"Presidents have the option of simply saying “I affirm.” Most Presidents and most public officials agree to swear to their oath. But there have been a few who have not, believe it or not. President Franklin Pierce, for example, affirmed his oath upon taking office in 1853," Labarga says.

Labarga says that choice dates back to the establishment of the Quaker religious movement. At one time English law required anyone taking public office to swear an oath, but Quakers and other religious groups worried swearing an oath violated the bible’s teachings.

Labarga says no matter what a person says – swear, affirm, or both, the important thing is the statement they’re making.