Removing ‘So Help Me God’ from an Oath?

Removing ‘So Help Me God’ from an Oath? May 13, 2019

The New York Times has the scoop: 

The witness rose from her seat, raised her right hand and swore to tell the truth before Congress.

But four words were missing: “So help me God.”

In the House of Representatives, to the winner go the spoils, and Democrats, the new decision makers, control everything, including what legislation gets a vote and the minutiae of procedural choices, such as whether witnesses must utter the traditional plea for divine aid. Democratic chairmen and chairwomen of several key committees have deemed no such entreaty is necessary.

“I think God belongs in religious institutions: in temple, in church, in cathedral, in mosque — but not in Congress,” said Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. What Republicans are doing, he continued, “is using God.”

“And God doesn’t want to be used,” he said.

No surprise, Republican lawmakers are staging a form of protest, jumping in when they can to point out each omission in real time.

“I am a sinner, I make mistakes every single day, but I do think that we could use a little more of God, not less,” Representative Garret Graves of Louisiana earnestly told his colleagues seated around the dais of the House Natural Resources Committee.

But weak is the hand without the gavel, and the change of phrasing is only one decision of many that the majority gets to make on Capitol Hill, where tradition reigns until it does not and every choice is freighted with subtext.

…Some Democrats have mounted ideological defenses of truncating the oath to avoid references to religion. When Representative Mike Johnson, Republican of Louisiana, interrupted Mr. Cohen to ask that witnesses be sworn in again — or at least be asked if they would prefer to recite the traditional oath, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, who leads the Judiciary Committee, interjected.

“We do not have religious tests,” he said, and moved the hearing along.

Such arguments have troubled Republicans like Mr. Johnson, who has been on the front lines of efforts to make the oath invoke God again. He pulled Mr. Nadler aside on the House floor to discuss the issue and directed his office to produce short video montages illustrating it. He believes in the cause.

Read on. 

Wikipedia has a little history on this, regarding various countries and institutions:

In the United States, the No Religious Test Clause requires that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Regardless of that, there are federal oaths which do include the phrase “So help me God”, such as for justices and judges in 28 U.S.C.

The phrase “So help me God” is prescribed in oaths as early as the Judiciary Act of 1789, for U.S. officers other than the President. The act makes the semantic distinction between an affirmation and an oath. The oath, religious in essence, includes the phrase “so help me God” and “[I] swear”. The affirmation uses “[I] affirm”. Both serve the same purpose and are described as one (i.e. “… solemnly swear, or affirm, that …”)

There is no law that requires Presidents to use a Bible or to add the words “So help me God” at the end of the oath. Historian John R. Alden maintains that George Washington himself added the phrase to the end after administration of his first oath. However, all Presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt have used this phrase, according to Marvin Pinkert, executive director of the National Archives Experience.

Memo to Democrats: don’t do this. Seriously. Americans, to a great extent, like God. Americans appreciate God. Americans want God to be part of the public conversation. We like having Him in the public square.

On the other hand…this just might be another brilliant way to get Donald Trump re-elected.  If that’s what you want, great! Keep up the good work!

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!