A Replacement for “So Help Me God”

Last month, I posted about a newly-minted lawyer named Jen who said an alternative oath during her initiation ceremony. Instead of saying, “So Help Me God,” she said, “On my honor.”

Reader Sarah just began a new job and faced a similar situation. Jen’s story was in the back of her mind.

Sarah writes this in an email:

A few days ago, I was hired by a privately-funded homeless shelter. My first day of work I was asked to fill out tax forms, sign my employment contract, and sign an oath to act in a respectful and professional manner. At the end of the oath, above the line for my signature, I was perturbed to see the phrase “SO HELP ME GOD.”

I don’t believe I require a non-existent being to help me behave properly, and I would have felt like a hypocrite if I had signed it with the (irrelevant) phrase intact.

I remembered reading about a lawyer in the states (on Friendly Atheist) who substituted “On my honour” for “so help me God” when giving an oath.

I asked my new boss if it would be acceptable to make the substitution. He said it was fine by him but was unsure if it was all right for us to make the changes on a legal document. He called the commissioner of oaths and asked her if it was all right to make the change and she said it wass perfectly fine. “So help me God” was scratched out with a black pen and “on my honour” was written in. I signed and feel good about it!

Looks like there’s a trend underway… is anyone else changing their oaths to strip them of religious references?

  • http://www.unmailblog.wordpress.com Tyler in SoCal

    I was at Jury Duty the other day and was wondering if I would need to say some oath that involved god. Turns out I was never picked but I was thinking I needed to do something similar.

  • b

    The next time I have to take an oath I will substitute “On My Honor”, so help me God…

  • Dave

    Just signed the oath to be sworn in to the Colorado Bar Association this morning.

    The opening line read like this:

    I DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR by the Everliving God (OR AFFIRM) that:

    I would have complained if not for the parenthetical.

  • Tom

    Really? It bothers you that much? I don’t think that this sort of behaviour is overly constructive.

    You can be as atheist as you like but still tolerate the fact that you are living in a country in which the vast majority of the population is monotheistic.

  • http://sanguinity.livejournal.com Sanguinity

    As I remarked on the post about Jen, most jurisidictions (including Jen’s) already provide for the use of a non-religious affirmation — this is the result of an equal-access religious accommodation battle that the Quakers fought, and (at least on paper) won.

    The problem seems to be that not many non-Quakers have ever had the opportunity to learn that these affirmations exist. The strong presumption by the jurisdictions is that people would OF COURSE use the religious oath. In many cases, not even the presiding officials know there’s an affirmation available, despite it being right there in their regulations.

    I say that we push for wide access to the existing accommodation — that officials be made aware of the religious accommodations that already exist within their procedures, and that these accommodations be offered without someone first having to know about and request them.

  • http://yrif.org Joel

    I think it’s awesome that there’s a “commissioner of oaths.” How 16th century!

  • Reginald Selkirk

    **** Yeah!

  • JulietEcho

    While I briefly considered joining the military, I noticed that the swearing-in oath included God, and I’d like to hope that I would have had the courage/integrity to ask for an alternative.

    Good for Jen and Sarah :-)

  • http://dyfl.blogspot.com Nathaniel

    i feel that any oath-swapping makes me sound more like ned flanders than an atheist. i just relish the thought that my profanity offends someone (even though that isn’t the point).
    i’m working up the courage to use google as a replacement for god. it’s far more apt, but ‘oh my google’ just sounds too nerdy, even for me.

  • ChrisZ

    I was observing some trials in D.C. this summer and the clerks ended the truth oath the witnesses have to affirm with “so help you” rather than “so help you God.”

  • Takma’rierah

    Nathaniel:

    After reading Neil Gaiman’s work I’ve been tempted to switch to “Anansi’s balls!” as a curse, but I too feel weird using it. Maybe I’ll start anyways though.

  • David D.G.

    “On my honor.”

    I like that. It has simplicity and class, and it speaks of personal responsibility.

    Also, Christians should not want to invoke God in their oaths anyway; if I’m not mistaken, the Bible itself contains a verse saying not to invoke God in your oaths, but “let your yes be yes and your no be no” — something like that.

    ~David D.G.

  • ChrisO.

    The military enlistment oath has the optional “on my honor” substitution in parenthesis.

  • littlejohn

    I think I’d be happy to say “So help me god,” since I don’t believe in god. That way, see, I can lie all I want!
    I wonder how the court would view that excuse in my perjury trial? I know! I could swear to god I wasn’t perjuring myself! This is perfect.

  • http://smokesignalsonawindyday.blogspot.com/ Injun Trouble

    I have been to jury duty here in Nevada. They do allow you to ‘affirm’ instead of pledge to any deity. Thank God!

  • anonymouse

    Really? It bothers you that much? I don’t think that this sort of behaviour is overly constructive.

    You can be as atheist as you like but still tolerate the fact that you are living in a country in which the vast majority of the population is monotheistic.”

    What’s the point? All American citizens have equal right to religion or lack thereof. Affirming with or without god is one’s own choice. Affirming as a non-believer can be a positive, subtle declaration of our own freedoms. Respecting others’ rights to religion doesn’t mean I or anyone else have to affirm using their god. I feel it’s more honest to do it this way.

  • anonymouse

    crap, sorry that wasn’t quoted properly. I have been worshiping at the the temple of Pabst.

    (who knew “worshiping” only had one “p”?)

  • N.F.

    When I had my Naturalization Oath Taking Ceremony a few days ago, I substituted “On my Honor” when I recited the Oath while everyone else(I think, or at least that is what I heard, but of course I’d like to think that I wasn’t the only one) said “So help me God.” I felt more honor in doing the oath the way I did, even if it was just done verbally, I just couldn’t say something on my oath that I deem untrue(wow, imagine that, I can’t lie.) =)

  • entertaining_doubts

    @Reginald: Now that’s a ****ing oath!

    Hopefully not too OT: Does anybody know of a clever phrase to replace the “under god” bit in the U.S. pledge of allegiance? I’m not thrilled about the entirety of the pledge, personally — antiquated nationalistic symbol worship, etc. — but I usually go ahead and say it anyway, sans “under god.”

    The resulting gap totally ruins the rhythmic flow for me, though, and it would be fun to throw in something snarky instead. Any ideas? I mean, besides replacing the whole thing with “America: **** yeah!”

    If this has been covered here before, my apologies, and a link to the relevant conversation would be appreciated. Thanks!

  • JB Tait

    The last time I had to pledge, the Court instructed me that it was acceptable to end in ” . . . so help me,” then just stop early and leave the God off.
    This has the added benefit in that Christian jurors hear the non-existent “God” even though it was not spoken, and are, thereby, not prejudiced against me by their beliefs.

  • JB Tait

    @entertaining_doubts
    Have you considered the dyslexic path?
    One nation, Underdog, with . . .

  • Jeff Satterley

    @entertaining_doubts: This little girl has a good one:

    http://www.atheistmedia.com/2009/09/one-nation-under-nobody.html

    The look on the woman’s face is fantastic

  • Andy

    I asked that it be omitted when I reenlisted in the Army, and this was accepted without incident. I like that my oath is to the Constitution, and the responsibility for upholding it is mine alone.

  • Alec

    That’s good news.

    Does anyone have a substitute for “under God” in the pledge? I’ve had to say it in school before and I usually just didn’t say that part, but if anyone has a substitution, I’d be glad to know!

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-8947-LA-Atheism-Examinerhttp:// Hugh Kramer

    I’ve heard “one nation under Canada” used instead of “under God” in the pledge.
    :^)

  • Laura Lou

    I think omitting that portion of the Pledge is the proper thing to do, since it originally had nothing between “one nation” and “indivisible.”
    Any addition, I think, would just need to affirm what it already says: I’m loyal to the U.S., a unified, ethical nation. My best suggestion is to put “resolute” in there, if anything. It’s a strong word and the syllables match.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Beth

    Tom,

    You can be as Christian as you want, but you should just get used to the idea that you are living in a society where many people are not Christian. And where church and state are legally separated.

    Yes, it bothers me that much.

  • JJR

    Some of us remember history and remember that for us atheists once upon a time, our testimony in open court wasn’t worth as much as our believing fellow citizens. So you’ll have to live with the fact that yeah, we’re still a little touchy about that. Tyranny of the majority isn’t just a catchy phrase; it’s something we have to stay vigilant about.

  • AxeGrrl

    When singing the Canadian national anthem (at sporting events, etc), instead of singing: “God keep our land glorious and free“, I sing: “Let’s keep our land…”

    It makes more sense to me; if our land is going to stay ‘free’, we’re the only ones that can do it.

  • Christophe Thill

    “On my honor” is great. What bothers me is that a private entity would require its employees to swear an oath. How can that be legal? Acting respectfully and professionally is a basic condition for doing good work. It could be specified in the contract. But by imposing an oath, this organisation is usurpating a privilege of public services.

  • medussa

    I wonder what training is involved in becoming the “Commissioner of Oaths”.

  • http://www.CoreyMondello.com Corey Mondello

    When a group is together, in a situation where they are directed to all say “So help me God”…its very easy to just move your lips and mumble something other than “So help me God” because chances are no one is watching that closely….I’ve done it a few times….felt “evil” in a good way. :)

  • Nightshadequeen

    About the “under God” bit.

    I used to substitute any random deity’s name for “God”. Zeus, Thor, Athena, Quetzalcoatl.

    Occasionally (back when Bush was president), I’d say “under Bush”. “Under democracy” doesn’t have the same ring, but it was a bit more pointed.

    I dunno. I never cared much about the pledge; I just felt it was a wasted five or so minutes.

  • Gordon

    My choice is “So say we all”

  • http://reanhouse.blogspot.com Sarah

    @Christophe Till: I may have been wrong about it being wholly private. I think I got the wrong end of the stick during my orientation. There is private funding and donations but I think the government has a hand in it too.

    In any case I’ve had to sign oaths at other private institutions when I was working as a nurse (this was before the “so help me god” would have bothered me).

    @ Medussa: I don’t know what kind of training is involved as the commissioner of oaths works in the HR department as a manager. Probably a day course followed by being sworn in by a judge or something.

  • jess

    I’m new to this site so this may have already been discussed, but the idea is related. Any thoughts on how to politely acknowledge a sneeze other than “god bless you.”?

    I’m in favor of: “I’m glad your heart’s still beating and you appear not to have injured yourself.” but it seems a bit lengthy.

  • James

    Recently, swearing in as an Army civilian, we were told that we didn’t have the say “So help me God” — it was optional.

    On the pledge:

    I change “under God” to “under law”.

    I don’t recall who tipped me off to that idea — might well have been here! :)

  • Jim H

    @Jess: I always just use the German “gesundheit.”. That word translates as “Health.” That’s just what you wanted to say, but much shorter.

    Regarding the pledge: “one nation indivisible” was my preference until I saw the video linked above. We are indeed one nation under nobody.

  • Dave

    I’m also new to this site, and was woefully ignorant that I should have been studying about being an atheist as well as just being one over the last 41 years. This site has really opened my eyes.

    I really like “On my honor”. After all, I am a proud American!

    @ jess: You can just say “Gesundheit”. According to Wikipedia it means “Health”. Or, you can just hand them a tissue.

  • False Prophet

    @Tom,

    If someone swears an oath on something they do not believe nor hold sacred, is that oath worth a damn? Would you respect someone who had sworn an oath to the Tooth Fairy? This has nothing to do with the prevailing cultural zeitgeist, it’s about integrity.

  • http://ambrand.com Ambrand.com

    To the Original Poster; What County or Jurisdiction was this in. I know that in Ireland and the UK an affirmation is allowed but the wording it not “On my honour” its “I AFFIRM that…”


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