A congressional Democrat on Sunday said it was "preposterous" that witnesses are still instructed to say "so help me God" in their oaths before testifying before Congress -- after his Democratic-led committee attempted to remove the God reference from its oaths earlier this year.
California Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman made the comments on The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Freethought Matters” program, which bills itself on its website as "an antidote to religion on the airwaves and Sunday morning sermonizing."
"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."
The members of Congress presiding over panels have the authority to decide the contents of the oaths for witnesses. In February, Louisiana Republican Rep. Mike Johnson called out House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., for leaving out "so help me God" from an oath he administered. Nadler promptly apologized and re-administered the oath, this time including the reference to God.
Video posted on Twitter by Johnson in March showed that the phrase "so help me God" was left out of an oath administered by Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., during a Judiciary subcommittee hearing. When Johnson objected, Nadler intervened, telling Johnson, “We do not have religious tests."
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., similarly omitted the God reference at a February Energy Committee hearing. The New York Times reported, however, that she was reading from a manual that her Republican predecessor used, and apparently was not making a secular stand.
Huffman, similarly, made no apologies Sunday for his stance on the oath.
"And wouldn't you know it, [House Republican Conference Chair Rep.] Liz Cheney just went ballistic... 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," he said.
He continued: "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. 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."
Responding to Huffman's comments, a spokesperson for Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, told Fox News, "Liz Cheney will always defend God. Period. If that bothers Rep. Huffman, we’ll be praying for him.”
A draft proposal obtained by Fox News in January showed that the House Committee on Natural Resources would ask witnesses to recite only, "Do you solemnly swear or affirm, under penalty of law, that the testimony that you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?"
The rules proposal placed the words "so help you God" in red brackets, indicating they were slated to be cut. The words "under penalty of law" are in red text, indicating that Democrats propose to add that phrasing to the oath.
Republican leaders reacted with dismay to the proposed change, suggesting it was part of a leftward shift by the Democratic Party.
After a backlash, the committee voted to keep “so help you God” in the oath as part of the rules package after a debate on the issue, according to aides and a video of the committee's deliberations posted to social media.
The draft rules also removed the phrase "his or her" throughout the document, changing those two pronouns to "their."
The rules additionally modified all references to the committee's "chairman" to instead refer only to the committee's "chair."