The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of four Alabama citizens, challenging a mandatory voter registration oath that concluded, “so help me God.” Alabama was the only state to require voters to sign a religious oath in order to register to vote. In all other states, voters were provided a completely secular registration form or were not required to submit an oath or affirmation at all.
Randal Cragun, the lead plaintiff, had tried to register to vote in Alabama starting in November 2019. He contacted the secretary of state’s office in order to ask about registering without the oath and was told there was no way to register without signing the oath as it was stated.
The lawsuit explained that the secretary of state was able to create and amend voter registration forms. In other situations, government officials routinely allowed those who are taking oaths to make a secular affirmation instead.
As part of a settlement, the secretary of state amended all of the voter registration forms to allow voters to check a box that says, “OPTIONAL: Because of a sincerely held belief I decline to include the final four words of the oath above.” The secretary of state also adopted a new administrative rule that allows voters to strike out “so help me God."
The case (No. 2:20-cv-01517-ACA) was before Judge Annemarie Carney Axon in the Northern District of Alabama. Attorney Steven Gregory represented the plaintiffs along with FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott and FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell.