The following is tesitmony that was given by the Nebraska Secular Associates prior to the formation of the Secular Coalition for Nebraska.
This testimony was presented by Nebraska Secular Advocates on LB603, Senator Chambers’ bill that gives people the option of taking an oath or affirmation when being sworn in to public office or when sworn testimony is required for other state business. Many sections of state law currently require an oath, but do not make allowance for an affirmation. The bill also strikes “so help me God” from such oaths.
Introduction: My name is Justin Evertson, and I am part of the leadership team of the Nebraska Secular Advocates. We support LB603, and thank Senator Chambers for introducing it. The Nebraska Secular Advocates is a new grassroots group dedicated to keeping our government secular. Although this group was organized primarily by nonreligious Nebraskans, we include and welcome the participation of the many religious Nebraskans who support the separation of church and state.”
Discussion: This bill goes to the heart of the concept of church-state separation as spelled out in the constitutions of both the United States and the State of Nebraska (specific language included below). Both documents clearly state that no religious test shall be a required to hold public office. In addition, both constitutions and Nebraska Statute § 25-2220 specifically include the allowance of affirmations instead of oaths for those so inclined. Arguments to be made for supporting this bill include:
- This bill cleans up state law to better conform to both the US and State constitutions in regard to church-state separation and the public swearing of truth (oath taking).
- The bill reflects the opinions of 67% of the U.S. population that strongly support a clear separation of church and state as spelled out in the First Amendment. (2011 State of the First Amendment national survey)
- The law reflects a significant and growing segment of Nebraska’s population that is secular-oriented and does not believe in a god to be feared for the purposes of swearing the truth. Surveys indicate that 10-20% of our citizens (well over 200,000 people) likely hold this belief. (Pew Forum U.S. Religious Survey 2012)
Supporting Information: Specific text from state and federal constitutions and statutes regarding this matter:
US Constitution – Amendment I (Bill of Rights)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
US Constitution – Article VI, #3.
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
Nebraska State Constitution – Article I-4
All persons have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences. No person shall be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship against his consent, and no preference shall be given by law to any religious society, nor shall any interference with the rights of conscience be permitted. No religious test shall be required as a qualification for office, nor shall any person be incompetent to be a witness on account of his religious beliefs; but nothing herein shall be construed to dispense with oaths and affirmations. Religion, morality, and knowledge, however, being essential to good government, it shall be the duty of the Legislature to pass suitable laws to protect every religious denomination in the peaceable enjoyment of its own mode of public worship, and to encourage schools and the means of instruction.
Nebraska Statute § 25-2220 provides:
Whenever an oath is required by this code, the affirmation of a person conscientiously
scrupulous of taking an oath, shall have the same effect –
Oath: A solemn usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says (2): a solemn attestation of the truth or inviolability of one’s words.
Affirmation: A solemn declaration allowed to those who conscientiously object to taking an oath. An affirmation has exactly the same legal effect as an oath, but is usually taken to avoid the religious implications of an oath.