Oaths::Article Six of the United States Constitution
Federal and state legislators, executive officers and judges are, by the third clause of the article, bound by oath or affirmation to support the Constitution. Congress may determine the form of such an oath. In Ex parte Garland (1866), the Supreme Court held that a test oath would violate the Constitution, so it invalidated the law requiring the following oath:
I, A. B., do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I have never voluntarily borne arms against the United States since I have been a citizen thereof; that I have voluntarily given no aid, countenance, counsel, or encouragement to persons engaged in armed hostility thereto; that I have neither sought nor accepted, not attempted to exercise the functions of any office whatever, under any authority or pretended authority in hostility to the United States; that I have not yielded a voluntary support to any pretended government, authority, power, or constitution with the United States, hostile or inimical thereto...
The Supreme Court found that the law constituted an unconstitutional ex post facto law, for it retroactively punished the offenses mentioned in the oath by preventing those who committed them from taking office.
Congress may not require religious tests for an office under the United States. Thus, Congress may include the customary words "so help me God" in an oath, but an individual would be under no compulsion to utter them, as such a requirement would constitute a religious test.
The current oath administered is as follows:
I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. [So help me God.]
During the 1960 presidential campaign, the issue of whether the nation would for the first time elect a Catholic to the highest office in the land raised the specter of an implicit, but no less effective, religious test. John F. Kennedy, in his Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on 12 September 1960, addressed the question directly, saying,
[N]either do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test, even by indirection. For if they disagree with that safeguard, they should be openly working to repeal it.
. . . [C]ontrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for President.
I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic.
I do not speak for my church on public matters; and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views – in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.
But if the time should ever come – and I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible – when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any other conscientious public servant would do likewise.
But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith; nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.
If I should lose on the real issues, I shall return to my seat in the Senate, satisfied that I'd tried my best and was fairly judged.
But if this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser, in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.
Article Six of the United States Constitution sections
Intro Text Debts Supremacy Oaths References External links
|PREVIOUS: Supremacy||NEXT: References|