MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An atheist advocacy group has filed a lawsuit against Alabama’s secretary of state, claiming a mandatory religious oath on voter registration forms is unconstitutional.
A Wednesday news release from The Freedom From Religion Foundation said Alabama is the only state that requires voters to swear “so help me God” when signing the registration form.
The Wisconsin-based group is filing the lawsuit against Secretary of State John H. Merrill on behalf of four Alabamians, who said their constitutional rights have been obstructed because “they are unable to swear a religious oath.”
“The secretary of state’s official policy is to hinder the registration of voters who are unable to swear ‘so help me God,’” the news release said. “This policy violates the rights of the plaintiffs and others under the First and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution.”
The release said the lead plaintiff is atheist Randal Cragun, who has been trying to register to vote since November 2019.
The foundation said Cragun contacted Merrill’s office requesting any type of form that does not require him to swear a religious oath but the office replied that there was no other way to register without signing that form.
Merrill’s office said the registration forms are “prescribed by statute” and “that any changes would require legislative action.”
The foundation dismissed that claim, pointing out that the secretary of state has the authority to create and amend voter registration forms.
The plaintiffs and the foundation are seeking a “permanent injunction” stopping the state from requiring the religious oath and offering another registration form that excludes the oath.
“The secretary of state has willfully excluded nontheist citizens from registering to vote,” said the foundation’s Senior Litigation Counsel Patrick Elliott, “and is coercing a statement of belief in a monotheistic god by requiring nontheists to swear a religious oath.”