WEST ALLIS, Wisc. — A professing atheist group has asked a Wisconsin police department to change the wording of its officer oath, which states that the individual will dedicate themselves before God to their work in law enforcement.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) recently sent a letter to the West Allis Police Department to advise that a “concerned local resident” had contacted them to point out wording in the police department’s code of ethics and oath.
“I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals, dedicating myself before God to my chosen profession … law enforcement,” it reads.
FFRF believes that citing God in the code and oath is unconstitutional because it could be considered a religious test for serving.
“Altering a mandatory oath to require West Allis law enforcement officers to dedicate themselves ‘before God’ is unconstitutional. There is no legitimate reason to add a religious phrase into a state-mandated secular oath,” its letter to Chief Patrick Mitchell read.
“Article VI of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from requiring any kind of religious test for an ‘office or public trust,’ which includes the position of police officer,” it said. “Officers who do not believe in God should not be forced to choose between swearing to a religious oath against their conscience or outing themselves as nonbelievers by refusing to recite the oath as written.”
FFRF is asking that the police department therefore remove the words “before God” from the oath. It notes that the Wisconsin Administrative Code has nearly identical language, but does not include “before God.”
“The message assumes a common God, but imagine the consternation had the West Allis PD inserted ‘before Allah’ in the code of ethics,” the group stated in its correspondence. “It is equally inflammatory and inappropriate to add ‘before God.'”
It is not yet known whether Mitchell plans to respond.
The Wisconsin Constitution, approved in 1848, begins with an acknowledgment of God.
“We, the people of Wisconsin, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure its blessings, form a more perfect government, insure domestic tranquility and promote the general welfare, do establish this Constitution,” it reads.
The Constitution also declares that the “right of every person to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of conscience shall never be infringed … nor shall any control of, or interference with, the rights of conscience be permitted, or any preference be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.”
It does additionally state that “[n]o religious tests shall ever be required as a qualification for any office of public trust under the state, and no person shall be rendered incompetent to give evidence in any court of law or equity in
consequence of his opinions on the subject of religion.”
However, according to Bill Fortenberry of The Federalist Papers Project, “To understand the true purpose of the religious test clause, we must hearken back to the Corporation Act of 1661. This was the first of three Test Acts which were implemented in England and which remained in effect until 1828.”
“Under these acts, no one could hold office in England unless he swore an oath of fealty not to God, but rather to the doctrines of the Church of England. This was the kind of religious test which the founders prohibited,” he explained. “They had no objection to biblical qualifications. What they objected to was the requirement that all government officials be forced to swear allegiance to the codified doctrines of an established church.”