GOP senator wants God returned to witness oaths

Posted: Friday, August 03, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sen. Jeff Sessions wants witnesses before Senate committees to say the oath, the whole oath -- and don't leave out God.

The Alabama Republican scolded Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., for leaving out ''so help me God'' when swearing in nominees and others who testify in front of his panel.

''Ninety-five percent of the people believe in God. An invocation of his name, in conjunction with the seriousness of telling the truth, has an importance beyond mere legal requirement,'' Sessions said Thursday.

Leahy said he just reads the oath from a card.

''I never gave it thought one way or the other,'' Leahy said. ''Whatever the committee wants is fine with me. It makes no difference to me.''

He questioned why Sessions raised the matter publicly.

''If you had any question, you could have just come and asked me,'' Leahy told Sessions after the committee meeting.

Leahy took over the chairmanship about two months ago when Democrats gained a majority in the Senate. The previous chairman, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, swore in witnesses by asking: ''Do you swear the testimony you are about to give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?''

Sessions came armed with a list of nominees who he said haven't been asked to say ''so help me God'' under Leahy's watch. Among them are Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI director-designate Robert Mueller, new Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson and numerous judicial appointees.

Sessions also says other Democratic committee leaders didn't ask Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi and Interior Secretary Gale Norton to repeat the version of the oath including God.

Although the Constitution outlines the specific oath a president must take -- no mention of God, though presidents always say it anyway -- there is no such rule governing witness oaths before congressional committees.

Sessions said traditionally the reference to God has been included and he is considering an effort to make the language part of Senate rules.


On the Net:

Sessions: 7/8sessions/

Leahy: 7/8leahy/

Judiciary Committee: 7/8judiciary/

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