Georgia Town Debates Saying No to “So Help Me God” November 25, 2009

Georgia Town Debates Saying No to “So Help Me God”

A couple days ago, I heard about how city council members in Marietta, Georgia were debating whether or not to remove the phrase “so help me God” from the oath new police officers take.

It’s a good move, of course, but it wasn’t a welcome one for city officials:

Councilman Van Pearlberg floated changing the oath last week during a Public Safety Committee meeting as the lawmakers reviewed the police department’s operating procedures. Pearlberg said he personally did not object to swearing to God, but as the city’s deputy assistant district attorney, he had encountered problems with individuals doing so in legal proceedings.

“I’m not looking to delete [so help me God],” Pearlberg told on Monday.

“I never really objected, I really just asked has this ever been a problem or has this ever come up before. I asked if anyone ever objected to it — that’s what I was concerned with.”

Pearlberg said the phrase should not be removed, but he said there could be problems with the oath if a police recruit is an atheist or not religious.

“I don’t think anybody should be forced to say anything,” he said. “I just don’t know what the alternative would be.”

How about… just removing it?

It wouldn’t change the substance of the oath but it would make it more inclusive.

… another councilman, Anthony Coleman, who chairs Marietta’s Public Safety Committee and works as a pastor at a church in Mableton, Ga., said he “adamantly” opposes any change to the oath.

“I just see no justification, I don’t care if the person is an atheist,” he said. “We’re a Christian nation.”

Of course, if he said “I don’t care if the person is a Jew…” his titles would likely have been stripped before you finished the article.

Anyway, the whole thing is moot now.

The mayor and city council released the following statement yesterday:

The Marietta City Council is not proposing to eliminate “so help me God” from the oath of office taken by the city’s police officers. The councilperson that initiated the discussion to consider adding an option to affirm has withdrawn the request. The oath of office remains unchanged and includes “so help me God.”

It shouldn’t be in there and I would hope a credible lawsuit would give the city enough reason to remove it altogether.

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  • jemand

    wow, there is no option to affirm? that’s illegal.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    Saying “so help me God,” when you don’t believe in God is just as effective as saying it when you do. Either way, God’s not going to be of much help. The whole notion of the phrase is a little shady though, as if all public officials are too weak and incompetent to uphold their oath with the help of some external force.

  • Pete

    When I joined the RAF I had the option to not swear on a bible, and my dog tags reflected my lack of religion. That was the time when I went from being agnostic to atheist, as they had no ‘agnostic’ classification. Shame American religionists don’t allow for the same tolerance.

  • In England when you are called for Jury Service you have to give an oath. When you are a witness in court you have to give an oath When you take office in different divisions of Her Majesty’s Law you have to take an oath. Over here we have no separation of church and state. Our Queen is the head of our Church. She is literally the sovereign and the protector of faith in one grumpy little old lady.

    And yet there is no mention of any kind of god in our oaths.

    To think that only a few short centuries ago there were people fleeing England to the Americas in order to be free to worship how they chose and not how the state dictated. What went wrong? When did “freedom of religion” become “worship Jesus”? When did “free religious expression” only mean “In God we Trust”?

  • The Other Tom

    Remember that Marietta, Georgia is the town whose government repeatedly passed bills in the 90’s to state that the town is anti-gay and that gay people are disgusting perverts. The Olympics pulled an event from the town because of it. So, it should come as little surprise that it’s still run by bigots.

  • “Of course, if he said “I don’t care if the person is a Jew…” his titles would likely have been stripped before you finished the article.”

    Good point. And I’m sick of hearing “we’re a Christian nation.” Only Christians say that, and those who do, I think are arrogant. Anyone who supports Me, Myself, and I do not belong in a position of authority.

  • TeddyKGB

    This isn’t a wire story, this is something Fox News covered themselves to deliberately stoke the “culture war”. Making a big deal of this plays right into their hands. Christian conservatives are so panicked that they’re losing representation socially and politically (because they are) that they will overreact to any news of this type.

    Personally, I don’t see the problem with religious people being able to affirm their beliefs publically, as long as nonbelievers are legally given a way to opt out. I take my 71-year-old mother to church every Sunday, for instance — I don’t really participate or agree with what’s going on, but it’s gratifying to me to help her get around and do things she wants to. I don’t need to “convert” her in order for us to have a relationship, and I think that’s the human/ist thing to do.

    *jumps off soapbox*

  • I remember my name change hearing in rural Indiana and I still had the right to affirm. However, I could never serve a populace that wanted to swear to any imaginary being…

  • Oceanu57

    Every little case like this should be pursued. Everytime there’s a hope of eroding religious bs even just a tiny bit we should do it. Because just like in evolution, lots of small changes over time result in big changes eventually.

  • Toni

    Amazingly, in this bible-belt right-wing southern town I live it, I have had a few occations to be sworn into court or jury duty, and each time I have asked to affirm instead. My request was honored without any discussion and never brought up again. They assume it’s because I’m Seventh Day Adventist (which is OK with them) instead of an atheist.

  • MaleficVTwin

    Wasn’t there a post here a while back about this, and the woman was able to say ‘on my honor’ instead?

    Fully agree on the ‘Christian Nation’ crap, I bristle every time I hear it.

  • JulietEcho

    It’s a good sign that some people were anticipating a problem before an actual atheist/agnostic formally objected.

    It’s a bad sign that they opted to stick with the problematic exclusivity and make others do the difficult job of forcing a change later on.

    Some instances of god-mentioning in oaths are the result of well-meaning ignorance, but in this case, the people involved are well aware that they’re being exclusive (illegally, at that) and are giving a big, “screw you” to the non-religious.

  • Jonas

    It’s a shame they didn’t have the foresight to modify the Oath, before an individual would need to make a stand against it. Aren’t there other religions (Quaker etc) that might object to the phrase?

    Is the Oath given to a Group, like it is when I was at Jury Duty, or individually? It’s tough to stand out in a group, for such a small thing. Some cops might see it as minor, and meaningless.

  • Back when I was a child growing up in a Christian home, I remember being taught that CHRISTIANS should never ‘swear to God’ in any kind of oath. Doing to was considered very very bad for some unfathomable reason.

    When I asked around later on as an adult, I found that this mindset wasn’t entirely uncommon; many Christians consider ‘swearing to God’ as being somehow akin to taking the lord’s name in vain.

    In light of this, taking ‘so help me God’ out of the oath wouldn’t just be a token gesture to us non-religious (as well as being the correct observance of separation of Church and State), there are plenty of religious people who would be relieved by the change as well.

  • Spurs Fan

    Even when I was a Christian, I hated the “Christian nation” bullshit. I always made the argument that by linking my faith with the government approval or sanction it became watered-down as everyone would have to abide by certain aspects of my beliefs even if they didn’t want to. Isn’t any faith more pure if it is not sanctioned by a government?

    It seems that future lawsuit might be successful-if a person is otherwise fully-qualified to a police officer (we would know if that was true by the swearing-in), this would appear to be a violation of the free-excercise clause of the 1st amendment (person not being hired directly based on a religious belief or lack thereof).

  • Luther

    In my state we have two forms of such oaths, but usually you have to request it. Recently I was sworn as an election official and requested the godless version. I wondered how many non-religious would ask.

    Shortly after I sworn in four other officials. I combined both versions keeping the two religious portions, anding with them the two godless portions.

    I’m glad I did both things. Yet, I will always wonder if the two people who know which oath I took will hold me in a higher or lower light. If one of them will use that information in some way with an intent to reduce my reputation. Being in integrity and the potential upsides are worth it to me. But clearly there are reasons for people to be concerned with outing themselves.

    Should I trust a godless person who takes the godfull oath? Better to do both together.

  • Joffan

    If they want four substitute words, I suggest:
    “I pledge my word”
    “so I solemnly promise”
    “pledged in public witness”
    “tell me if I fail” (OK this is five)

  • Mike K

    Of course, if he said “I don’t care if the person is a Jew…” his titles would likely have been stripped before you finished the article

    As an atheist who grew up in Marietta and still lives in Cobb, I wouldn’t be too sure about the speed of said stripping. Don’t forget these are some of the same idiots who wanted to keep the stickers on the science books.

  • muggle

    On the up side, the question was asked. On the down side, it was answered incorrectly.

  • Jim


    Would an atheist police officer with a shred of integrity even take such an oath if those specific words were required to be spoken?

    But in my own personal experience, police officers and integrity are not exactly synonymous.

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