The Free Congress © Commentary:

God Forsaken in U.S. Senate

By Paul M. Weyrich
August 10, 2001

Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, discovered that after Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont took over the Chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee from Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, he had dropped the phrase "so help me God" from the oath taken when swearing in witnesses. Sessions made an issue of this at a meeting of the Judiciary Committee last week and Leahy said he would return the phrase "so help me God" to oaths, a phrase which was added to the government oath by President George Washington.

Leahy dismissed the controversy as a mistake, due to his short tenure as Chairman of the Committee, but Sessions doubts that. At the beginning of this year, before Dick Cheney was sworn in as Vice-President, the Democrats controlled the Senate, and conducted hearings. For example, it was the Democrats who held hearings on the nomination of John Ashcroft to be Attorney General. Sessions went back and examined the records of that brief period, and sure enough, there was no "so help me God" when the Democrats were in charge. Obviously, the dropping of the phrase was no accident, but quite intentional.

This is not a surprise if you are familiar with the results of some survey research that the Democrats had done for them for the 1996 Presidential election. That research indicated that there is 19% of the electorate who are either non-believers, atheists, or against the profession of religion in the political process. Those voters, although liberal, were not necessarily wedded to the Democratic Party in 1996. That was because Bill Clinton, the Democratic standard bearer that year, invoked the name of God at least as often as the Republicans.

Thereafter, some Democratic campaign staffers crafted a strategy aimed at getting that vote squarely in the Democratic camp. One of the ideas suggested was an attack on all uses of God in the governing process. This group wanted to go after the "In God We Trust" on the currency, abolish the office of Chaplain for the House and Senate, and get rid of references to God in various public buildings. Most Democratic Party operatives rejected an overt assault on God, fearing that would alienate Middle American voters who had returned to the Democrats under Clinton. Whatever the reality, Clinton was regarded by most of the country as a middle-of-the-road Democrat.

But these operatives reasoned that a quiet abolition of references to God could be done without calling attention to the initiative. The Judiciary Committee's move on the oath fits nicely into that strategy. Unfortunately for Leahy and the agnostic faction of the Democratic Party, Senator Sessions blew the whistle. And Leahy, a nominal Catholic, caved without a fight. Perhaps he told those Democratic strategists that he would go along with their idea unless it became an issue in which case, he didn't want to be caught defending the dismissal of God from his Committee.

Watch for other indications of this strategy being implemented. Some public buildings are being renovated under contracts that were implemented during the Clinton era. Some religious historians have already charged that overt references to God and Christianity and religion in general are being expunged.

Ronald Reagan used to remind us that we shouldn't ever presume that God is on our side on various issues but we should rather worry whether we are on God's side as we go forth in battle. That is something the Democrats might want to keep in mind as they try to implement this highly questionable strategy.

Paul M. Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.

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