A Democratic Congressman from California called the ending phrase of the oath witnesses recite before testifying in front of Congress “preposterous.”
The words “so help me God” have been used in oaths in the United States as early as 1789; in fact, the Judiciary Act of 1789 states that the phrase distinguishes an oath from an affirmation.
Rep. Jared Huffman, however, claims the religious-based phrase is “unconstitutional,” proposing that it alienates people who don’t believe in God as well as those who worship multiple deities.
Huffman’s remarks were made Sept. 1 on the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Freethought Matters” show, according to Fox News. FFRF is an organization which aims to uphold the separation of church and state.
The democratic congressman is also a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, which proposed changes to the verbiage of the oath for witnesses testifying before the committee — including the elimination of “so help me God” — at the beginning of the year.
According to the committee’s rules, which were adopted on Jan. 30, the committee ultimately decided to keep the debated phrase, with the addition of “under penalty of law.”
The oath now reads, “Do you solemnly swear or affirm, under the penalty of law, that the testimony that you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
The new rules also removed gender-specific terms such as “chairman,” “his” and “her” in lieu of more neutral terms like “chair” and “their.”
Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, however, disagreed with the committee’s proposal to eliminate the phrase “so help me God.”
She told Fox she wasn’t surprised that the Democratic representatives would “try to remove God from committee proceedings.”
“They really have become the party of Karl Marx,” she said in January 2019.
In his remarks Sept. 1, Huffman likened Cheney’s comments to a shark smelling blood in the water.
“Liz Cheney just went ballistic,” he said. “And unfortunately my Democratic colleagues backed down, and so we now nominally still have that same oath.
“It’s unconstitutional to require a witness in congressional testimony to affirm an oath to a deity they may not even believe in, or to affirm an oath to a singular deity when you might be a polytheistic Hindu, for example. It’s just preposterous.”
Huffman, who proudly and publicly declared that he is not religious, is also the co-founder of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, which was created to “defend the secular character of our government” as well as to advocate for “science and reason-based public policy,” according to Facebook post from Huffman.
He said Sept. 1 it’s imperative to protect and defend the separation of church and state against the “slippery slope toward theocracy.”
He even encouraged viewers to subscribe to Hulu’s streaming service and watch the fictional show based on a book written by Margaret Atwood — “The Handmaid’s Tale” — to understand the dark potential of theocracy.
Huffman claims the Trump administration and its leaders, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, use God as a political opportunity in “disturbing and creepy” ways.
That’s why he continues to defend the House Committee on Natural Resource’s proposal to remove the phrase “so help me God” from witness oaths eight months later, even questioning why the phrase is still being used Congress-wide.
“It really, frankly strains credulity that in this day and age Congress would have something like that and yet, some of the politics persist,” he said.
Other members of Congress, like Republican Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, continue to fight for the traditional phrase to be used.
“The intention behind it was to express the idea that the truth of what was being said was important not just in the moment, but would go into eternity, and someone was watching and would ultimately be our judge,” Johnson told The New York Times in May.
“Some would call that mere symbolism, but to many of our founders, it was deeper than that.”