May 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

Residents of Alabama who want to register to vote are no longer required to sign a statement that ends with the words “so help me God.”

Until recently, anyone wishing to register to vote in Alabama had to sign a declaration reading, “I solemnly swear or affirm to support and defend the constitution of the United States and the State of Alabama and further disavow any belief or affiliation with any group which advocates the overthrow of the governments of the United States or the State of Alabama by unlawful means and that the information contained herein is true, so help me God.”

Last year, an Alabama resident named Randal Cragun, who is an atheist, objected to the reference to a deity. Cragun said he could not in good conscience sign the form. He was told his only option was not to register to vote. He felt so strongly about it that he sat out the 2020 election.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to state officials and attempted to resolve the matter. But the officials refused to change the policy, leading FFRF to file suit on Cragun’s behalf. (Three other atheists in the state joined the lawsuit.)

In a court filing, FFFR asserted, “The Secretary of State and the State of Alabama are coercing a statement of belief in a monotheistic deity by requiring nontheists to swear ‘so help me God’ in order to register to vote.”

To remedy the issue, Alabama election officials altered the registration form. It now contains a check-off box reading, “Because of a sincerely held belief, I decline to include the final four words of the oath above.”

In light of the change, FFRF voluntarily dropped the lawsuit.