An atheist advocacy organization filed suit Thursday on behalf of four Alabama citizens who say the state’s voter registration religious oath is unconstitutional.
Alabama is the only state that includes “so help me God” on its voter registration form. The phrase concludes a list of items that citizens must swear as accurate to them, such as “I am a U.S. citizen” and “I live in the State of Alabama.” The final words on the form are, “The information contained herein is true, so help me God.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a coalition of atheists, agnostics and skeptics, sued Alabama on behalf of four citizens who oppose the oath. All are self-described atheists.
“The Alabama Secretary of State excludes Alabama citizens from being able to vote if they are unable to swear a religious oath,” the suit says. “... This policy violates the rights of the Plaintiffs and others under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.”
Quoting a 1961 U.S. Supreme Court opinion, the lawsuit says, “The United States Supreme Court has held as a settled First Amendment principle that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person ‘to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.’”
The suit asks the court to ensure the Alabama Secretary of State “provides forms that allow individuals who are unable to swear ‘so help me God’ to be able to register to vote.”
The lead plaintiff is Randal Cragun of Jefferson County, Ala.
“Mr. Cragun identifies as an atheist. As a matter of conscience, Mr. Cragun is unable to swear ‘so help me God,’” the lawsuit says.
Cragun says he was told by the secretary of state’s office, “There is no legal mechanism to register to vote” in Alabama “without signing the oath as it is stated” and that if he crossed anything out, “the board of registrars in your county will reject the application and ask you to resubmit.”
The Alabama Secretary of State’s office says any form change would require legislative action.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.