Not an Oath: My Affirmation of Office

I, Chris Duckworth, do affirm that I will support the
Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the
Commonwealth of Virginia and that I will faithfully and impartially
discharge all the duties incumbent upon me as an Officer of Election of
Fairfax County according to the best of my ability.

Tomorrow, Election Day, I am serving as an election officer for the first time.  This is the kind of important civic duty that I have wanted to carry out for a long time, and only now found the opportunity to do so.  I will be working at a polling station from 5am until at least 8pm, checking ID cards, signing in voters, and operating voting machines.  I’m pretty excited.

As part of my training, I had to make an oath/affirmation.  The use of language in this oath/affirmation is interesting.  Within this statement there are three instances where alternate language is available in parenthesis to the person making the oath/affirmation (the statement above shows the options I chose in making my affirmation).

  • The statement itself is referred to as an Oath/Affirmation of Office.  The word oath carries with it religious significance, as an oath is a declaration or promise made in the name of God or which calls on God as a witness.  This to me is a problem.  What interest or business does the state have in calling on God in a legal matter?  Does God has legal standing in the Commonwealth of Virginia?  I had to sign a copy of this statement, and I underlined the word affirmation where both were listed.
  • The original statement reads, I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that . . .  I chose to affirm rather than swear that I will carry out my duties impartially and according to the Constitutions of my nation and state.  The word affirm carries with it no religious connotations, whereas a swear usually involves the Bible or God as a sort of witness to or guarantor of one’s truthfulness (against which I railed here, over two years ago).  Again, what business does the state have in using God or my church’s sacred books as a legal tool or prop?  Furthermore, Jesus warns us against swearing in Matthew 5:34-37:

But I say to you, do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

  • Finally, the original text of the statement concludes, " . . . according to the best of my ability (so help me God)."    I crossed out the parenthetical so help me God injunction, again believing that it is not the proper role of the state to invoke the name of God in a legal document and official activity.

The Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States of America have wonderful governing documents – and laws – to which Fairfax County can appeal for me to affirm my impartiality and loyalty in carrying out my duties as an election officer.  Why reach into the private, religious sphere and misuse our scripture and God?  Not only is it inappropriate from a legal/constitutional perspective, but I find the state’s misuse and misappropriation of religious imagery – scripture and the name of God – to be insulting and dangerous.

OK.  More on this later.  But my baby just woke from her nap and I’ve got a kid to play with.

Peace to you.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
This entry was posted in Church/State, Politics, Society, Vocation. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Not an Oath: My Affirmation of Office

  1. Bruce says:

    I agree with your sentiments, although being a lawyer as well as a Christian (yes, both), I long since have stopped worrying about the oath as a practical matter because it’s become part of daily life. I’ve always been impressed with the form of the oath I heard one court reporter give 20 years ago: “Do you swear on the Bible of Almighty God to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God, as you shall answer for it on that great Last Day?” Now that’s an oath!

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