There's no real mystery why Democrats dropped "so help me God" from the end of the oaths U.S. House witnesses take. Invoking God would mean the existence of an entity more powerful than the federal government. And that's not what Democrats want to consider.
Like each president selecting portraits of his favorite chief executives to hang in prominent places in the White House, the party in power in the House is allowed to control the traditions and minutiae of the branch of government. And it turns out, one of those is the oaths taken by committee witnesses.
Variously since the 18th century, though, federal office-holders and congressional witnesses have been using the four words at the end of the oaths they take. But Democrats, who won back the House in 2018, decided they didn't need God dirtying up the oath.
It first was rumored they would make the change in a leaked memo in January, but citizens' questions about it to left-leaning, fact-checking website Snopes returned an "Unproven" answer. By the end of the month, the site had quietly revised its answer to "True."
"I think God belongs in religious institutions: in temple, in church, in cathedral, in mosque — but not in Congress," U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, said.
Fair enough. Despite the history of the Founding Fathers' use of God in many of the country's founding documents, he didn't want it used in his subcommittee. Democratic House, Democratic rules.
But Cohen couldn't stop himself.
"What Republicans are doing," he said, "is using God. And God doesn't want to be used."
Cohen, at that point, either was misreading history or was sorry he was called out for not having witnesses say "so help me God," like a child spotted by the teacher while shooting spitballs in class.
Republicans and Democrats alike (and those of their predecessor political parties) have been using the phrase since the country was founded, with exceptions for those whose faith doesn't view God as a higher power and those whose faith precludes swearing an oath.
It was a tradition imported, like many of America's first immigrants, from Europe. And since there's no religious test for federal office holders or employees, per the U.S. Constitution, no one is forced to cite the oath.
But Cohen, in his subcommittee, didn't offer his witnesses a chance with their oath in a Feb. 28 hearing. So a Republican committee member said, "I think we left out 'so help me God.'"
"We did," the Tennessee representative said.
The Republican then asked the witnesses to take the oath, adding "so help me God," and Cohen said, "No."
A Cohen cohort, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, then told the witnesses not to identify themselves if they preferred to use the phrase, saying, "We do not have religious tests for office or for anything else."
It later was revealed Nadler had not used the words for witnesses earlier in a Committee on Natural Resources hearing.
"They really have become the party of Karl Marx," U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, said at the time.
The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney may have been exaggerating, but we think it's as simple as not wanting a high power to be invoked.
When witnesses use the phrase "so help me God," they are in essence saying they will testify truthfully in front of an all-knowing higher power.
For Democrats, that higher power is the federal government, which they use to reward and punish.
Look no further than the 2020 Democratic candidates for president as examples of rewards. In exchange for your vote, they have been promising free health care, free college, school loan forgiveness, marijuana legalization, open borders, abolishing the Electoral College and slave reparations, just to name a few — none of which the country can afford.
For punishment, for one example, recall the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service during the Obama administration.
If a federal government can do all that, who needs God? Besides, without invoking the name of God, those conducting congressional hearings and those who are witnesses need not feel any compunction about telling the truth. The truth, after all, is what the phrase is all about.
The words, according to an article in the William & Mary Law Review, are "an abbreviated form of the oath, 'So may God help me at the judgment day if I speak true, but if I speak false, then may He withdraw His help from me.'"
No God, no conscience, then no need for truth.