After an Atheist Gets Elected to Public Office, His First Challenge is Taking the Oath

Randall Hayes is an atheist who recently got elected as an alderman in Atlanta, Louisiana. (Big cheers!)

Before he could take office, though, he had to recite the Oath written in the Louisiana Constitution and sign a document with the words written on it:

“I… do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the constitution and laws of the United States and the constitution and laws of this state and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as… according to the best of my ability and understanding, so help me God.”

Well, Randall wasn’t about to say those last four words or sign the statement as is, but he also didn’t want to cause a scene the day of his inauguration:

Although I was confident that I would have no trouble getting through the spoken affirmation without violating my conscience, I wasn’t so sure about the Oath of Office form that public officials in Louisiana are required to sign. That form reproduces the words of the Oath of Office, with the phrase “so help me God” printed immediately before the blank for the public official’s signature. I could easily omit the religious language from the spoken affirmation, but I couldn’t so easily omit the religious language from a pre-printed form that I was supposed to sign.

You can read about how all of this went down on his site.

We can take a few important lessons away from all this:

Running for local office is an important civic duty and atheists shouldn’t shy away from it.

You don’t have to recite the Oath they give you even if it looks like it’s written in stone.

No lawsuit has to be filed to get your way. Sometimes, asking nicely does the trick.

You can change the Oath while still being respectful and courteous in the process.

Hats off to Randall for handling this whole situation so well!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Blah

    Okay atheists, which belief system best describes the world we live in: Naturalism or human secularism and why?

    • A3Kr0n

      Science best describes the world we live in. The two that you mentioned are belief systems.

    • Marco Conti

      A belief system doesn’t really describe anything. It’s a subjective interpretation of individual reality.

      But even if it was a valid question, directing it to “Atheists” will give you as many answers as people you ask to.
      Atheists don’t have an agreed upon dogma. Even inside a religion, with their scriptures and dogmas, you will find many interpretations of reality. In the Atheist movement the only universal belief is that we do not believe in a god or gods because we don’t think there is evidence for a god in general and certainly no evidence for any specific god or gods.

      What you were looking for, was the Humanist web site.

      Personally, I find the question confusing. Even if it wasn’t,. it only gives two option, neither compelling. As the other poster stated, Science best describes the world we live in. It”s science’s job to do that. You may not agree on the results but whenever you examine a phenomena and craft an explanation, you are doing science, to various degrees.

      You may be doing good or bad science depending on your methodology, but it is science. If you try to describe your world through the religious lens, you are really engaging in philosophy. While philosophy has its place, if you wanted to find out how lighting works you would be better off following the evidence and previous research than lock yourself in a room and think about it really hard.

      • blah

        I concur with what you’re saying. I think of science as a tool or process that can be used to study naturally occurring systems myself. Is there room for the term science(ism) to exist in our language? If so, what would be it’s dogma? Perhaps that is a belief system that all processes can be studied systematically and the world around us can be described mathematically?

        My apologies for being confusing. I feel like atheists get pigeonholed into one lump category when I know for a fact that there are belief systems (I don’t mean that in a bad way) within atheism. I’m just trying to take some time to understand what I don’t fully understand perhaps.

        I didn’t mean to simply limit the conversation to just two options. Those were the first two that came to mind. But if scientism is a belief system, and I believe it could be described that way, would that be the most common belief system among modern day atheists do you think? What other belief systems would fall under the atheist label?

        Thanks for the respectful responses so far!

        • Sindigo

          No, I don’t think there is room for such a term as “scientism” or similar. Science is simply a process (or more accurately, a series of processes) which can be used to ascertain what is true about the universe. It requires no belief in anything. You may believe that it can be described as a belief system but you are dead wrong. You may as well say that believing that 1+1=2 makes you a maths-ist.

    • Cristobal Santana

      None and None. Why? I was an atheist before I understood scientific principles and/or any other ideology and I absolute hate it when other atheists point to science for saying “I don’t believe in god/gods”. It is simply misplacing why you believe in what.

      The only reason you are an atheist is because you simply do not believe — independent of EVERYTHING else; forget science and philosophy; you can believe in both and still be a deist//theist. If I never knew them, I STILL would not believe in a god(s) because I see no reason to..

  • Marco Conti

    “So help me dog”

    When I was in the Italian Army we had to Swear allegiance to the flag by shouting “Lo Giuro” which means “I Swear it” (pretty much the equivalent of “so help me God” in English) .

    “Lo Giuro” sound very similar to “L’ho Duro”, which means literally “My dick is hard” (we often imply the subject in Italian) and of course every single soldier, at every swearing ceremony I have ever attended shouted it.

    If a few individuals say it in a crowd shouting the original statement it’s impossible to tell them apart. If every single soldier shouts the altered version, there is no doubt what is being said.

  • JP

    He looks dapper as fuck with that bow tie.

    • sideshow.billybob

      Bow ties are cool.

      • MD

        Fezzes are cool.

  • Luther

    Our state provides for an alternate oath for election officials. But to me it takes some guts to be ask for that and I expect many are too shy/fearful to ask. So I have written a combination oath which covers both at once and use that to swear in those who work for me on election day.

    A few months ago I was asked to swear to a petition I was submitting, to an official whom I know, After she read the oath to several of us, I said ‘I will not swear, but do Affirm”. She seemed to be taken aback, but then accepted what I said without comment.

  • ruth

    I strongly object to having to specifically ask for an affirmation or to leave off “so help me god.” This is a forced “outing” of a person as an atheist. Oaths should be abolished in favor of affirmations.

  • bernardaB

    “I do solemnly swear (or affirm)…” I don’t know about Louisiana law, but in Federal law if you say “affirm”, you do not have to say “so help me god”.