Student Senate votes to keep 'so help me God' in SGA oath of office

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The Auburn Student Senate has voted down a proposal to remove "so help me God" from the SGA oaths of office.

After some debate, Student Senate made a final decision on the wording of Election Law section 717.2, keeping the phrase in the oaths.

Graduate College Sen. Max Zinner, who faced mostly opposition by other senators, argued particular wording wasn't appropriate for a public university.

"I want to represent all students; not all students are Christian or monotheistic or religious in any way," Zinner said Monday night. “They all can run for SGA so I don’t want people to be saying something that is against their deeply held beliefs whether they are religious or secular.”

Section 717.2 outlines the oath that the residing president of the University is to administer to new senators, schools council officers and SGA executives upon taking office.

“I do solemnly promise to support the Constitution and the Laws of the Student Government Association of Auburn University and to perform the duties of my office to the best of my ability. So help me God," the oath of office reads.

“I think some could interpret that as the SGA having an official position on the question of religion,” Zinner said.

Engineering Sen. Sarah Hill presented a Facebook survey that asked if the wording should be removed from the oath. Hill said that the survey was shared from her personal account and shared to SGA Facebook pages.

The survey received 1,365 responses of which only 178 weren't students, 28 Facebook shares and 281 comments. Ninety-six percent of people who took the survey answered "no," the language shouldn't be removed and left comments largely supporting the wording of the oath.

Many of the comments, which were presented to the Senate by Hill, pointed out how ‘so help me God’ was used in the oaths taken by the President of the United States, asking “…what makes an Auburn student feel as though they are above repeating the same words?”

Other comments argued that having ‘God’ in official oaths was something that the University and Nation as a whole were built on.

“…by taking one step to amend something that is reflective of the very ideal which makes Auburn what it is, you begin to welcome more substantial change elsewhere,” one comment said. 

Zinner was quick to challenge the survey, however, on the grounds that since it was from a personal account and not from an official SGA source it did not accurately represent all Auburn students.

“I’m sure if you asked most students they would say ‘yeah, keep it;’ most people tend to stay with the status quo,” Zinner said. “I don’t know how representative this is.”

Hill and several other senators defended the survey, saying that they had seen it shared in several places, commented on by a variety of people and even mentioned offline by members of the faculty.

“It was shared multiple times by different people,” Hill said. “Just looking at the names of people there are a lot that I don’t recognize, so I think it definitely did reach a lot of people.”

After some more debate, the discussion was ended by a move to return to the previous question which brought the senators to the final vote on the subject.

The amendment was rejected and the bill was not passed, leaving the wording of the oath as it was.

“I was a little bit disappointed that debate was ended, in my opinion, prematurely,” Zinner said.

Zinner said he already has plans for another amendment that he will be pushing for as the Fall semester continues. He felt the issue was moved too quickly for one that he feels could negatively impact so many students.

“It's discouraging to someone who’s not a Christian or a monotheist, I would say, because there are non-Christian monotheists that would have no problem saying ‘so help me God,” Zinner said. “I would have like to have seen a bit more ‘ayes’ or even a bit more willingness to discuss this issue.”

Senate also voted in a Student Bill of Rights during their Monday meeting. Based on other Universities’ versions, the 10 points of the Auburn Student Bill of Rights were created based on aspects of the student handbook that Senate committees deemed affected all students.

Not all students know about the policies we have in our handbook, let alone know if there is a handbook or where to find this handbook online,” said At-Large senator Hannah Clarke.

After more discussion and another move to return to the previous question the resolution was passed, creating Auburn University’s first official Student Bill of Rights. 

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