Published November 23, 2009
City council members in Marietta, Ga., will consider changing the oath of office that the city's police officers take so that recruits can swear to uphold the law without saying the phrase "so help me God."
But a police spokeswoman says that to her knowledge, nobody has ever objected to saying those words, and the city's mayor promises he'll veto any change to the oath that removes them.
Det. Gwen Lewis, a police spokeswoman, said no complaints have been received recently regarding the five-sentence oath the Marietta Police Department last adopted in August 2001. To her knowledge, she said, no would-be officer has ever objected to saying "so help me God" as part of the oath.
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 FoxNews.com 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.”
But 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.”
Coleman said Pearlberg sought to have the phrase omitted during last week’s meeting, a claim Pearlberg denies, saying he never intended to have the phrase removed from the oath.
Coleman said city attorney Doug Haynie has been instructed to develop language to allow any potential police officer to affirm his or her duties without swearing to God before the next committee meeting on Dec. 30.
Several calls seeking comment from Haynie were not returned.
Any effort to remove the phrase will likely be fruitless, as Mayor Bill Dunaway said he’ll veto any changes proposed by the five-member council. Only a unanimous vote could override Dunaway’s veto, he said.
“In the eight years I’ve been mayor, there’s never been a problem,” he said of the oath. “I don’t think there will be any changes at all. If someone does not want to make that statement, I’m not so sure I want them on our police force.”
Dunaway said he thought it was “unfortunate” that local lawmakers were spending their time on the issue.
“It’s not a threat,” Dunaway said of his looming veto. “It’s just a promise.”
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Annette Lewis stopped short of saying the oath should be reworked, but acknowledged “some alternative” should be available to those who object for any reason.
“I don’t want to say the oath should be reworked, but if you have a person who objects to it, it appears there should be some alternative available to those individuals,” she said. “Should you deny someone a job if they refuse to swear in God’s name?”
Asked if she intends to support calls for any change to the oath, Lewis replied, “I would have to see what’s brought before us.”