Appearing on an atheist podcast this week, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) said that it was ridiculous that we still have public witnesses reciting the words “so help me God” when they swear an oath to tell the truth before Congress. Huffman, whose committee on Capitol Hill mounted a failed bid to remove the reference earlier this year, told the hosts of The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Freethought Matters” program that he was still very much interested in secularizing the official oath.
“Well, unfortunately, it’s been kind of a sporadic standard,” Huffman said. “Some committees have dropped the oath, others have not. I sit on the Natural Resources Committee and in our original proposed rules for the committee, we proposed that we drop the oath or we allow witnesses to simply say it voluntarily if they chose to, which to me makes perfect sense.”
As it stands now, Huffman is right. Congressional panels can decide for themselves what witnesses must recite when taking their oaths. Still, pressure from conservatives on Capitol Hill has led to “so help me God” staying in most of the oaths.
This, of course, is something that Huffman finds unacceptable.
“And wouldn’t you know it, [House Republican Conference Chair Rep.] Liz Cheney just went ballistic,” he said. “And unfortunately my Democratic colleagues backed down, and so we now nominally still have that same oath. But you’re right. 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.
“If we were to have a hearing on climate change, for example, and we wanted to call one of the foremost physicists, let’s say Neil DeGrasse Tyson,” Huffman continued. “He’s an atheist. Do we force him to affirm an oath to a God he doesn’t believe in? It really, frankly, strains credulity that in this day and age Congress would have something like that, and yet some of the politics persist.”
Having apparently noticed her name being dropped, Rep. Cheney’s spokesperson sent a short statement to Fox News.
“Liz Cheney will always defend God,” the spokesperson said. “If that bothers Rep. Huffman, we’ll be praying for him.”