So help me God

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So help me God is a phrase often used to give an oath, and most commonly optional as part of an oath of office. It is also used in some jurisdictions as a form of oath for other forms of public duty, such as an appearance in court, service as a juror, etc.

The essence of the phrase is to emphasize that one means what one is saying or has said.[1] It therefore implies greater care than usual in the act of the performance of one's duty, such as in testimony to the facts of the matter in a court of law.

The use of the phrase implies a greater degree of seriousness and obligation than is usually assigned to common conversation. See the discussion on oaths for more details.

Australia[edit]

In Australia the Oath of Allegiance is available in two forms, only one of which contains the phrase "So help me God!"[2]

Canada[edit]

In Canada, the Oath of Office, Oath of Allegiance, and Oath of Members of the Privy Council may be sworn, and end in "So help me God." They may also be solemnly affirmed, and in such case the phrase is omitted.[3]

Fiji[edit]

The Constitution of Fiji, Chapter 17 requires this phrase for the oath of allegiance, and before service to the republic from the President's office or Vice-President's office, a ministerial position, or a judicial position.

New Zealand[edit]

In New Zealand the Oath of Allegiance is available in English or Maori in two forms, one an oath containing the phrase 'so help me God' and the other an affirmation which does not. The Police Act 1958 and the Oaths Modernisation Bill still includes the phrase.[citation needed]

United Kingdom[edit]

The Oath of Allegiance set out in the Promissory Oaths Act 1868 ends with this phrase, and is required to be taken by various office-holders.

United States[edit]

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.[4] 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 ...") [5]

In the United States, the No Religious Test Clause states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." Still, there are federal oaths which do include the phrase "So help me God", such as for justices and judges in 28 U.S.C. § 453.[6]

Presidential oath[edit]

There is no law that requires Presidents to add the words "So help me God" at the end of the oath (or to use a Bible). Some historians maintain that George Washington himself added the phrase to the end of his first oath, setting a precedent for future presidents and continuing what was already established practice in his day[7] and that all Presidents since have used this phrase, according to Marvin Pinkert, executive director of the National Archives Experience.[8] Many other historians reject this story given that "it was not until 65 years after the event that the story that Washington added this phrase first appeared in a published volume" and other witnesses, who were present for the event, did not cite him as having added the phrase.[9] These historians further note that "we have no convincing contemporary evidence that any president said “so help me God” until September 1881, when Chester A. Arthur took the oath after the death of James Garfield."[10]

Oath of citizenship[edit]

The United States Oath of Citizenship (officially referred to as the "Oath of Allegiance", 8 C.F.R. Part 337 (2008)), taken by all immigrants who wish to become United States citizens, includes the phrase "so help me God"; however 8 CFR 337.1 provides that the phrase is optional.

Military[edit]

The Enlistment oath and officer's Oath of Office both contain this phrase. Normally, it is not required to be said if the speaker has a personal or moral objection, as is true of all oaths administered by the United States government.[citation needed] However, a change in October 2013 to Air Force Instruction 36-2606[11] made it mandatory to include the phrase during Air Force enlistments/reenlistments. This change has made the instruction "consistent with the language mandated in 10 USC 502".[12] The Air Force announced on September 17, 2014, that it revoked this previous policy change, allowing anyone to omit "so help me God" from the oath.[13]

State laws[edit]

Some of the states have specified that the words "so help me God" were used in oath of office, and also required of jurors, witnesses in court, notaries public, and state employees. Where this is still the case, there is the possibility of a court challenge over eligibility, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961), that such state-law requirements violate citizens' rights under the federal Constitution. Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia retain the required "so help me God" as part of the oath to public office. Historically, Maryland and South Carolina did include it but both have been successfully challenged in court. Other states, such as New Hampshire, North Dakota and Rhode Island allow exceptions or alternative phrases. In Wisconsin, the specific language of the oath has been repealed.[14]

Equivalent in other languages[edit]

Croatian[edit]

In Croatia, the text of presidential oath, which is defined by the Presidential Elections Act amendments of 1997 (Article 4), ends with "Tako mi Bog pomogao" (So help me God).[15][16]

In 2009, concerns about the phrase infringing on Constitution of Croatia were raised. Constitutional Court of Croatia ruled them out in 2017, claiming that it is compatible with constitution and secular state.[17][18][19] The court said the phrase is in neither direct nor indirect relation to any religious beliefs of the elected president. It doesn't represent a theist or religious belief and does not stop the president in any way from expressing any other religious belief. Saying the phrase while taking the presidential oath does not force a certain belief on the President and does not infringe on their religious freedoms.[19]

Filipino[edit]

In the Oath of Office of the President of the Philippines, the phrase "So help me God" (Filipino: Kasihan nawa ako ng Diyos) is mandatory, though the phrase can be omitted voluntarily, in which case it would become an affirmation instead of an oath.[20] An affirmation, however, has exactly the same legal effect as an oath.

French[edit]

In medieval France, tradition held that when the Duke of Brittany or other royalty entered the city of Rennes, they would proclaim Et qu'ainsi Dieu me soit en aide ("And so help me God").[21]

German[edit]

Germany

The phrase So wahr mir Gott helfe (literally "as true as God helps me") is an optional part in oaths of office prescribed for civil servants, soldiers, judges as well as members and high representatives of the federal and state governments such as the Federal President, Federal Chancellor and the Minister Presidents. Parties and witnesses in criminal and civil proceedings may also be placed under oath with this phrase. Its use is not compulsory and an affirmation can instead be made to the same effect. Oaths start with the words Ich schwöre ("I swear"), whereas affirmations often use the phrase Ich gelobe ("I vow" or "pledge").

Austria

The traditional oath of witnesses in Austrian courts ends with the phrase so wahr mir Gott helfe. There are, however, exemptions for witnesses of different religious denominations as well as those unaffiliated with any religion. The oath is rarely practised in civil trials and was completely abolished for criminal procedures in 2008. The phrase so wahr mir Gott helfe is also an (optional) part in the oath of surveyors who testify as expert witnesses as well as court-certified interpreters. Unlike in Germany, the phrase so wahr mir Gott helfe is not part of the oath of office of the Federal President, members of the federal government or state governors, who may or may not add a religious affirmation after the form of oath prescribed by the constitution.

Polish[edit]

The Polish phrase is "Tak mi dopomóż Bóg" or "Tak mi, Boże, dopomóż." It has been used in most version of the Polish Army oaths, however other denominations use different phrases.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary: So help me (God)
  2. ^ http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Senate/Powers_practice_n_procedures/~/link.aspx?_id=7236082E7207424F9E1D779ED103FD19&_z=z#schedule_oath
  3. ^ Oaths of office
  4. ^ Judiciary Act of 1789, Sec. 7. Accessed 2013-07-04.
  5. ^ Judiciary Act of 1789, Sec. 7. Accessed 2009-01-24.
  6. ^ https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/28/453-"
  7. ^ Alden, John R. (1993). George Washington, a Biography. Norwalk: Easton Press.
  8. ^ Interview with NPR's Morning Edition, see "Where Does The Oath Of Office Come From?". Morning Edition. 2009-01-14..
  9. ^ Henriques, Peter R (2009-01-11). ""So Help Me God": A George Washington Myth that Should Be Discarded". History News Network. The George Washington University. Retrieved 2021-01-22. There is absolutely no extant contemporary evidence that President Washington altered the language of the oath as laid down in Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution... it was not until 65 years after the event that the story that Washington added this phrase first appeared in a published volume.
  10. ^ Parker, David B (2016-02-15). "'So Help Me God' and the Presidential Oath". Time. Time Magazine. Retrieved 2021-01-22. Recently, we’ve seen another version of the “So help me God” story: not just that George Washington said it in 1789, but that every president added it to the oath of office. We know that the claim for Washington is problematic, and as it turns out, we have no convincing contemporary evidence that any president said “so help me God” until September 1881...
  11. ^ "AFI 36-2606" (PDF).
  12. ^ Losey, Stephen (4 September 2014). "Group: Airman denied reenlistment for refusing to say 'so help me God'". Air Force Times. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  13. ^ Victor, Philip J. "Atheist airman can re-enlist without religious oath after policy change". Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera America, LLC. Retrieved 19 September 2014.
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ "Zakon o izmjenama i dopunama zakona o izboru predsjednika Republike Hrvatske" [President of the Croatia Election Act Amendments] (PDF). State Electoral Commission. 1 July 1997.
  16. ^ Zakon o izmjenama i dopunama Zakona o izboru predsjednika Republike Hrvatske (NN 71/97.)
  17. ^ "Poklič iz predsjedničke prisege ne ugrožava sekularni karakter Republike Hrvatske - Jutarnji.hr". Jutarnji.hr. 2017-07-25. Retrieved 2017-07-25.
  18. ^ "Poklič "tako mi Bog pomogao" ne ugrožava sekularnost RH". N1. 2017-07-25. Retrieved 2017-07-25.
  19. ^ a b "Ustavni sud je odlučio: "Tako mi Bog pomogao" je dio predsjedničke zakletve". Index.hr. 2017-07-25. Retrieved 2017-07-25.
  20. ^ Constitution of the Philippines (1987). (2010, November 10). In Wikisource, The Free Library. Retrieved 19:51, December 31, 2010, from http://en.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=Constitution_of_the_Philippines_(1987)&oldid=2191074
  21. ^ Bulletin et mémoires de la Société archéologique du département d'Ille-et-Vilaine