- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

Sen. Jeff Sessions yesterday berated the Senate Democratic leadership for removing the words "so help me God" when it administers oaths to nominees during confirmation hearings.
The Alabama Republican joined with the Traditional Values Coalition, a D.C.-based group, in questioning Sen. Patrick J. Leahy on the omission, which began when Mr. Leahy took over as head of the Judiciary Committee in May.
The Vermont Democrat was put on the spot by Mr. Sessions during a committee session yesterday morning, then later via a press release.
Mr. Sessions said in a statement that he is considering legislation on the matter, although he acknowledges that the Supreme Court has ruled that nobody can order someone to invoke the name of God.
"I can only conclude that this is another example of the secularization of American public life," Mr. Sessions said.
Mr. Leahy denied the charge of deliberate secularization, saying he simply reads the oath from a card.
"I never gave it thought one way or the other," he said at a panel hearing yesterday. "Whatever the committee wants is fine with me."
He later responded to his detractors with a statement of his own.
"If anyone is suggesting that this Irish-Italian Catholic chairman of the Judiciary [Committee] is against religion, they are either biased or ignorant of my background," Mr. Leahy said.
David Carle, a spokesman for Mr. Leahy, said that nominee oaths have been conducted in adherence with constitutional law, which does not dictate exact language.
Mr. Carle said there is no plan to change the nominee oath.
Later, Mr. Carle called The Washington Times to say: "Oaths have been offered either way since the changeover in the Judiciary Committee, and in the future will be offered uniformly with that phrase restored."
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, used the phrase, which is generally considered a staple of legal proceedings, when he was the panel's chairman.
"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?" is the question. Those on the stand are free to refrain from using the phrase and can request its omission.
In his statement, Mr. Sessions noted that the historic practice, which dates back to George Washington, was not uttered during the oaths given to judicial nominees William Riley, Sam Haddon and Richard Cebull, as well as executive branch nominees John Ashcroft, Sarah Hart, Deborah Daniels, Asa Hutchinson and Robert Mueller.
"We've gone back and looked at Democratic judiciary chairs and Kennedy and Biden have administered the full oath," said Sessions spokesman Mike Brumas. "We're looking into a bill or a resolution that requires this, just like Senate Rule 3 requires senators to say it in their oath."
Senate Rule 3, which defines the Senate oath and includes the phrase "so help me God," was created as a statute in 1884, but the custom dates back further. George Washington added the phrase on his own when he was sworn in as president in 1789.
Mr. Sessions' dismay, though, is based on what he perceives as the ebbing of a standard. "If 'so help me God' is the standard for senators, why should it not apply to nominees who will testify before those senators?" he said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Traditional Values Coalition accused the entire Democratic leadership of removing religion from the political process.
"This is Democratic-wide," said Steve Aiken. "We think it is very important to have this wording in there. It is an erosion of traditional values from America."

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