Most of us have sworn to God, whether informally or as a duty. As a figure of speech, I do it all the time. But if I meant these words precisely, if I based my character on anything other than personal accountability, I would never disregard the implications of such a statement.
The First Amendment plainly states the federal government should neither elevate nor persecute one or all religions over another. I believe the Ohio State Supreme Court ruling of 1872 in regards to the Cincinnati Board of Education said it well.
“United with government, religion never rises above the merest superstition; united with religion, government never rises above the merest despotism.”
Religious tolerance should not be confused for religious approval. Liberty of consciousness is meant to be a protection of privacy, and public displays are meant to be non-denominational. In many ways the government has upheld these doctrines, especially in cases where compulsory education intersects prayer and the Bible.
However, our national motto says differently; what began as E Pluribus Unum, “One from many,” slowly evolved into “In God We Trust,” from The Star Spangled Banner. The Pledge of Allegiance maintains a retroactive vigilance against the Red Scare, touting the phrase “One nation, under God.” And many public servants, including federal judges and military personnel, recite oaths with the closing verse “So help me God.”
It’s worth noting that no one is made to recite these words under Article VI, Section 3 of the Constitution. Even so, preferences of religion — whether small or profound — will likely remain a staple of our democratic image, for better or worse.
Religion is obviously a personally meaningful and sensitive issue to many, and I can understand why observers would want to preserve and spread their worldview. But oaths in the name of God allow injustice to prevail, mostly in precedent but even as an active presence in our society.
As mentioned before, Article VI, Section 3 of the Constitution states, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any public office or public trust under the United States.” Meanwhile, Article I, Section 4 of the Texas State Constitution contradicts this by adding “… nor shall anyone be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”
Although this section is rarely enforced, it also remains untouched. How could such clear-cut discrimination be even remotely constitutional? This is exactly what James Madison meant when he said majority rule is tyranny in disguise. With every passing day, this law makes us less and less of a democracy. And for what? So Texans can sleep soundly knowing they’re in God-fearing hands?
Who decided that oaths to God uphold the nation’s integrity? For all the good they have provided, historically speaking, the Abrahamic religions have done plenty to wrong human condition. If one agrees with the literal interpretations of the Bible as a moral authority, that person would essentially be obligated to commit acts of atrocity.
In his recent New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof references Deuteronomy 20:16 to describe God’s promotion of genocide. A brief list of other so-called virtues found in the Bible include “suicide, incest, bestiality, sadomasochism, sexual activity in a violent context, murder, morbid violence … voyeurism, revenge … bigotry, lawlessness, and human rights violations.”
Everyone is entitled to his or her beliefs. You may choose to reinforce the age-old tradition of excluding non-believers, and you may continue to believe the consequences of your actions will be determined by God. I only ask that you consider how this one expression does harm to others. I, for one, am going to make a concerted effort to stop swearing to God under any circumstance.