A state representative in Massachusetts proposed to amend the Massachusetts Constitution—the oldest in the country, and in the world—to remove “so help me, God” from the oath of office for nearly every elected official.
Proposed by Mindy Domb (D-Amherst), the bill was approved by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary on April 25. If it is passed, “so help me, God” would be replaced by the longer secular oath: “This I do under the pains and penalties of perjury.” The proposal was backed by 14 Democratic lawmakers.
One secular group said the “so help me, God” phrase should be removed from official proceedings, and that in their view, it violates the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
“The history of the United States is about pluralism and an insistence that all of the country’s legal structures and forms of authority are representative of persons of every belief or a lack of belief,” Zachary Bos, Massachusetts state director for American Atheists told CNHI. “We support any move that helps to increase the government’s commitment to secularism.”
But one conservative group, the Massachusetts Family Institute, said that removing “God” from the official proceedings reflects the latest efforts by some to erode people’s faith.
“It’s yet another cynical attempt to erase the rich legacy of faith that has been part of our Commonwealth from the Pilgrims to today,” the group’s president Andrew Beckwith said, according to CNHI.
Gender Neutral Constitution?
Earlier in the month, Domb presented another proposal to make the same constitution gender neutral, such that all pronouns “he” would be replaced with “they.” The bill was backed by 9 other co-signers—8 of whom are Democrats.
“We need to make sure the Constitution includes everybody, regardless of their race, gender or identity, and that the language in it reflects that,” Domb told CNHI. “We are in a much different world now than when the Constitution was originally written.”
Lengthy Amendment Process
Members of the US House are sworn-in during the beginning of the 116th US Congress at the US Capitol in Washington on Jan. 3, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
The Massachusetts Constitution was mainly authored by John Adams, the second president of the United States, and became effective in late 1780. It is the oldest functioning written constitution in continuous effect in the world. It has since been amended 121 times—most recently in 2006 when they approved the state’s health care law, which served as a model for the national Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare.
The process to amend the constitution could take up to several years and gain the approval of two consecutive legislatures before being cleared for a statewide ballot for voters to decide.
In 2017, a French woman who was seeking citizenship filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts to remove the phrase “so help me, God” from the oath of citizenship. A federal judge rejected the case, saying in his ruling that her arguments were not convincing.
“By its very nature, an oath that concludes ‘so help me, God’ is asserting that God exists,” her lawsuit read. “Accordingly, the current oath violates the first ten words of the Bill of Rights [the Establishment Clause], 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.”
But U.S. District Judge William Young said in his ruling that the phrase “so help me, God” was not a violation of the Establishment Clause because it was ceremonial, and is a “well-established tradition that can be traced back to the nation’s founding.”
House Committee Vote to Keep ‘God’ in Oath
In late January, House Democrats failed to remove “so help you, God” from the House committee oath, after it sparked objections with some Republicans.
The Democrat-controlled House Committee on Natural Resources proposed to remove the reference to God from the committee’s oath. The draft of the proposed committee rules (pdf) showed the words “so help you God” in red brackets, meaning that the words would have been eliminated. The Democrats also planned to add the words “under penalty of law” to the oath instead.
If the rules had passed, the oath would have read as follows: “Do you solemnly swear or affirm, under penalty of law, that the testimony that you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”
JUST IN: The House Natural Resources Committee votes to keep "so help you God" in oath before testifying to committee, after a draft would have eliminated it. Chairman @RepRaulGrijalva says draft was a "mistake." pic.twitter.com/4TeemMuqP0
— Jason Calvi (@JasonCalvi) January 30, 2019
After the news of the plan to remove the phrase came out, a top Republican congresswoman characterized the edits to the oath as indicative of a hard left shift for the Democratic Party.
House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) told Fox News: “It is incredible, but not surprising, that the Democrats would try to remove God from committee proceedings in one of their first acts in the majority … They really have become the party of Karl Marx.”
Epoch Times reporter Janita Kan contributed to this report