‘So Help Me God’ Left Out of Naturalization Oath in D.C. Ceremony

Seventeen immigrants living in Berkshire County take an oath of citizenship during a naturalization ceremony at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., on Sept. 10, 2016. (Gillian Jones/The Berkshire Eagle via AP)

WASHINGTON – Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell, appointed by President Obama to the District Court for the District of Columbia, left out “so help me God” while administering the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony Wednesday.


Howell asked the new U.S. citizens to raise their right hand and “repeat the ‘Oath of Allegiance’ after me.”

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the oath goes: “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

When presiding over the ceremony at the National Archives in Washington, Howell omitted “so help me God” at the end of the oath. She then congratulated the new U.S. citizens and said they may be seated.

Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations provides for a religious exemption, stating in part, “When a petitioner or applicant for naturalization, by reason of religious training and belief (or individual interpretation thereof), or for other reasons of good conscience, cannot take the oath prescribed in paragraph (a) of this section with the words ‘on oath’ and ‘so help me God’ included, the words ‘and solemnly affirm’ shall be substituted for the words ‘on oath,’ the words ‘so help me God’ shall be deleted, and the oath shall be taken in such modified form.”


Judge Howell did not mention the phrase “and solemnly affirmed” while administering the oath Wednesday. U.S. Code does not outline the specific rules for the official or judge presiding over a mass public naturalization ceremony when one or more new citizens requests a religious exemption.

Today’s event was held to honor the 229th anniversary of the ratification of the Constitution.

PJM reached out to the National Archives press office as well as USCIS about the omission of “so help me God,” but had not received a response before press time.

President Obama appointed Howell to the District Court on Dec. 27, 2010. In 2014, Howell rejected a challenge to Obama’s executive actions that would have provided work permits to undocumented immigrants who met certain requirements. However, the Supreme Court later blocked Obama’s executive actions from taking effect in June of this year.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, an immigrant originally from Czechoslovakia, said the new citizens have a “solemn responsibility” to defend America against its foes, which is part of the Oath of Allegiance.

Albright rejected critics who “resent all of this” and think the day after the immigrants had “arrived” in the U.S. is “the day the door to America should have swung shut.”

“Let us pray that that time never comes, for our nation cannot stand still. We need the vitality and renewal that comes with fresh energy and ideas,” Albright said.


She encouraged the new citizens to put their naturalization certificate in the “safest and most secure place,” calling it “the most important piece of paper you will ever get.”

“It represents not just a change in legal status but a license to dream — because of this ceremony, America will be even better tomorrow than it was yesterday. For our country, that is a cause of celebration. For you, it is both a challenge and a priceless opportunity,” she said.

Albright continued, “Thank you so much for allowing me to join you here today, because as you took your oath I renewed mine.”


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