Atheist fails to get ‘so help me God’ removed from naturalization oath for US citizenship

New U.S. citizens raise their hands as they take an oath of allegiance.
New U.S. citizens raise their hands as they take an oath of allegiance. | (Photo: Reuters)

The naturalization oath for U.S. citizenship will continue to include the words “so help me God,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has ruled, rejecting claims that the words violate First Amendment rights of atheists.

“We follow the Supreme Court’s most recent framework and apply American Legion’s presumption of constitutionality to the phrase ‘so help me God’ in the naturalization oath because we consider the inclusion of similar words to be a ceremonial, longstanding practice as an optional means of completing an oath,” the judgment states in a federal lawsuit that was filed in 2017 by an atheist, Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo, who moved to the United States from France and applied for naturalized citizenship in 2008.

“And because the record does not demonstrate a discriminatory intent in maintaining those words in the oath or ‘deliberate disrespect’ by the inclusion of the words, Perrier-Bilbo cannot overcome the presumption.”

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Perrier-Bilbo, a resident of Massachusetts, had argued that “whether the use of the phrase is rooted in history and tradition is not a legitimate way to assess if the oath in its current form is constitutional.”

Judges said the Supreme Court Establishment Clause jurisprudence “supports the district court’s analysis of the challenge by reference to historical practices and understanding.”

“By its very nature, an oath that concludes ‘so help me God’ is asserting that God exists,” read her lawsuit.

“Accordingly, the current oath violates the first ten words of the Bill of Rights, and to participate in a ceremony which violates that key portion of the United States Constitution is not supporting or defending the Constitution as the oath demands,” it stated, referring to clause that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The phrase “so help me God” is optional in the Oath of Allegiance of the United States, which reads: “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

Some Democratic leaders of several key committees have nixed the phrase “so help me God” from a swearing-in oath for individuals testifying before them.

“I think God belongs in religious institutions: in temple, in church, in cathedral, in mosque — but not in Congress,” Democrat Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, told The New York Times last May. What Republicans are doing, he argued, “is using God.”

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

At the time, the Rev. Franklin Graham, who serves as president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, blasted the move as backward.

“Why has the Democratic Party turned its back on God?” Graham said in a series of tweets in response to the report. “We need more of God, not less! What @RepCohen is suggesting is what Communism did in Eastern Europe & is still doing in places around the world like Cuba. Communism only allows worship inside approved churches.

"God is our Creator & the maker of the universe. He is present everywhere; He is not limited to churches or temples. The root of the issue is that many politicians don’t want God in any part of their politics or our country’s business because His standards condemn their sins.”

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