FFRF “Solemnly Affirms” Right to Godless Oath in Nevada

In December 2010, FFRF was alerted by Cliff Hillington, a Nevada FFRF member, of a constitutional violation that had taken place during the administration of his oath to become a Notary Public. On May 27, 2010, Mr. Hillington had been told by a Deputy Clerk of Clark County, Nev. that he could not omit the phrase “so help me god” in his oath as a notary. As a non-believer, he was made very uncomfortable by this and felt he could not in good conscience perform his duties as a notary.

On February 11, 2011, FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert contacted the Nevada Secretary of State about this violation, and followed up on April 12 with the Clark County Clerk. In her letter, she pointed out that the Nevada Constitution specifically allows for secular affirmations as well as religious oaths, saying, “No person applying to be a notary public should be required to take a religious oath. Not providing a secular alternative violates Nevada law.” She also cited Torcaso V. Watkins, a U.S. Supreme Court decision explicitly calling it unconstitutional to force a notary to take a religious oath.

The Clark County Clerk’s office sent a response to FFRF and Mr. Hillington on May 2. The County Clerk, Diana Alba, apologized for the “misunderstanding between my staff and Mr. Hillington regarding his option to solemnly affirm under the pains and penalties of perjury.” Alba went on to say that all employees in her office, including the deputy clerk who swore Hillington in, had been reminded that those being sworn in “are allowed to take the oath in accordance with their personal preferences as defined in Nevada law.” In addition, Hillington was offered the option to re-take his oath in a secular manner.

Freedom From Religion Foundation