A Wisconsin police department's overtly religious oath and code of ethics has been changed after the Freedom From Religion Foundation protested.
The West Allis Police Department's Code of Ethics had included the following line since at least 2013, a line that was part of the oath that the police officers take:
I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals, dedicating myself before God to my chosen profession . . . LAW ENFORCEMENT. (boldface added)
This Code of Ethics was also printed in the department's annual report. The code's language mirrored the State of Wisconsin's Administrative Code, which prescribes a law enforcement code of ethics that "shall be administered as an oath to all trainees during the preparatory course," except that the Wisconsin Administrative Code does not include the words "before God."
Altering a mandatory oath to require West Allis law enforcement officers to dedicate themselves "before God" was unconstitutional, FFRF informed the West Allis Police Department. There is no legitimate reason to add a religious phrase into a state-mandated secular oath, FFRF stated, and asserted that the insertion should be removed.
"Article VI of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from requiring any kind of religious test for an 'office or public trust,' which includes the position of police officer," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to West Allis Police Chief Patrick Mitchell on Oct. 4. "The U.S. Supreme Court has held that to require a religious oath is a violation of both the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution."
Besides requiring officers to take a religious oath, the inclusion of the modified Code of Ethics in the department's annual report also gave the appearance that all officers believe in one particular god. This was not only divisive and inaccurate—fully 23 percent of American adults are nonreligious—but also unconstitutional.
And administering the oath violated the Wisconsin Administrative Code, which requires that all trainees be made to take the oath "as set forth below," indicating that amendments are not permitted.
FFRF's reasoning convinced the West Allis Police Department.
"The West Allis Department Code of Ethics has now been modified and is taken verbatim from the Wisconsin Administrative Code," Mitchell recently responded in a letter.
FFRF appreciates the willingness of the West Allis Police Department to see reason.
"We're pleased that the police department deemed it proper to modify its code of ethics and oath," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The use of religious language was unconstitutional and forced some cops to be dishonest."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Madison, Wis.-based national state/church watchdog organization with more than 23,000 nonreligious members all over the country, including 1,300-plus in Wisconsin.