A Republican legislator is unhappy the words, “so help me God,” have been dropped as Iowa lawmakers recite the oath of office to begin a new term in the legislature.
Representative Dawn Pettingill of Mount Auburn raised the objection after two new lawmakers were sworn in in the Iowa House in opening ceremonies earlier today. She says there’s a long tradition of appealing to the divine when taking office in Iowa.
“It has been said in the oath of office since 1939 here in Iowa and it’s included in the oath for federal senators and congressman,” Pettingill says. “I think we should have had a discussion before it was removed.”
Pettingill didn’t notice the change last year when all 100 newly-elected members of the Iowa House were sworn in using an oath without the words: “so help me, God.” Mark Bransgaard, the chief clerk of the House, says there was no conscious decision to drop the phrase.
“I didn’t have a copy of the oath so I went to the constitution and copied it, unawares that we’ve said, ’so help me God’ in the past,” Bransgaard says. “I mean, we can go back to saying that if the members choose to do that.”
Representative Pettengill took matters into her own hands and asked for time to speak on the House floor today so she could restate her oath and add: “so help me God.” Pettingill plans to sponsor a resolution to try to put that phrase in the oath for good.
This is the section of the Iowa Constitution outlining the oath of office members of the legislature are to recite:
Oath of members. SEC. 32. Members of the general assembly shall, before they enter upon the duties of their respective offices, take and subscribe the following oath or affirmation: “I do solemnly swear, or affirm, (as the case may be,) that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Iowa, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of senator, (or representative, as the case may be,) according to the best of my ability.” And members of the general assembly are hereby empowered to administer to each other the said oath or affirmation.
Lawmaker Dawn Pettingill may want to do some additional research before sponsoring "a resolution to try to put that phrase in the oath for good," because according to the 1857 Constitution of the State of Iowa, Article I, Section 5 that type of change would require a constitutional overhaul:
SEC. 4. No religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office, or public trust, and no person shall be deprived of any of his rights, privileges, or capacities, or disqualified from the performance of any of his public or private duties, ... in consequence of his opinions on the subject of religion, ... .
In a previous blog I pointed out how authors Kramnick and Moore were right to single out Utah as having a "unique State Constitution." I guess I need to take that back. The Iowa Constitution apparently protects religious liberty, as spelled out in Article I Section 4, just as well. The big differences between the two states seems to be that Utah office holders are aware of what their constitution says regarding the addition of "so help me God" to the end of their oath.