‘So Help Me God’ No More: Democrats Give House Traditions a Makeover

But like most Washington spats, the truth is more complicated. When Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, who heads the House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee, conducted a hearing and swore the witnesses in without the phrase, for example, Representative Jeff Duncan, Republican of South Carolina, jumped in to point out that “the oath was incorrect and incomplete.”

“This is the oath we use,” Ms. DeGette replied, “and that’s the oath we’re going to use today.”

No matter how small the teacup, such congressional tempests do get refracted through a partisan prism. The Center for Inquiry, a nonprofit group dedicated to fostering “a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry and humanist values,” cheered Ms. DeGette’s “support for the constitutional separation of church and state.” Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican, scoffed to Fox News that House Democrats “really have become the party of Karl Marx.”

But in truth, Ms. DeGette’s comment — “this is the oath we use” — carried no underlying meaning. She was not making a defiant secular stand, but merely reading from the same committee decorum rule book that her Republican predecessor, Representative Gregg Harper of Mississippi, had used to administer oaths, videos show.

In this case, Ms. DeGette’s omission was unintentional.

But some Democrats have mounted ideological defenses of truncating the oath to avoid references to religion. When Representative Mike Johnson, Republican of Louisiana, interrupted Mr. Cohen to ask that witnesses be sworn in again — or at least be asked if they would prefer to recite the traditional oath, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, who leads the Judiciary Committee, interjected.

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