Omitting “So Help Me God” is No “Mistake,” Atheist Orgs Tell House Committee


For Immediate Release: February 12, 2019
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
press@centerforinquiry.org - (207) 358-9785

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A coalition of secularist groups, led by the Center for Inquiry, is urging Rep. Raul Grijalva, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, to continue with the committee’s plan to make the phrase “so help me God” optional for witnesses being sworn in for testimony, and not to back down to pressure from the religious right.

Last month it was reported that the House Natural Resources Committee planned to vote on an amendment to its rules that would give hearing witnesses the option to omit the phrase “so help me God” when sworn in to testify. Almost immediately upon becoming public, the committee reversed course, voting to maintain the phrase, with Chairman Grijalva calling the earlier draft a “mistake.”

“Removing the requirement to recite this clause is a long-overdue step that would bring the committee in line with the overwhelming majority of Americans who support the constitutional separation of church and state in law and in spirit,” said a large coalition of atheist and nonreligious organizations, led by the Center for Inquiry, in a letter to the chairman. “We saw the vote as an opportunity for the new Congressional majority to show leadership in making our government inclusive of all Americans regardless of their religious belief or lack thereof.”

The coalition took even greater exception to the characterization of the proposed change as a “mistake.”

“It is never a mistake to fight for religious equality and inclusive government,” they said. “The requirement to swear loyalty to a deity is a clear violation of the religious freedom enshrined in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which requires the government to maintain neutrality not just between different religions, but also between religion and non-religion.”

In a hearing last week in the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Jerrold Nadler accidentally omitted the “God” clause in administering an oath, and adding it back on later. But on February 7, Rep. Diana DeGette, Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight, also omitted “so help you God” from the oath, and when this was pointed out to her by a Republican colleague, she did not make an attempt to “correct” it. “This is the oath we use,” she said, “and that’s the oath we’re going to use today.”

“The rest of Congress could learn something from Chairwoman DeGette’s support for the constitutional separation of church and state,” said Jason Lemieux, Director of Government Affairs for the Center for Inquiry. “She stuck to her guns in upholding the secular character of our government, and lo, the world did not come to an end. Instead, she helped the approximately 95 million nonreligious Americans feel represented by their government.”

Read the letter below:

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at centerforinquiry.org.