Oaths, pledges change for political officials in polarized America


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The resignation letter was short and direct.

“I can no longer take the oath to uphold Ohio’s new Constitution,” Sabrina Warner wrote in her letter announcing her resignation from the state Republican Central Committee.

This was just days after Ohio voters Strong approval An amendment to the state constitution last November ensures access to abortion and other forms of reproductive health care. For many, the vote was a victory after the US Supreme Court Overturned Constitutional right to abortion in 2022.

For Warner, a staunch opponent of abortion, this meant she could no longer stand by the Ohio Constitution, which she had proudly sworn to uphold just a year earlier.

Throughout modern American history, elected officials have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and sworn allegiance without controversy. Recently in some cases, these routine practices have fallen victim to the same political divisions that have deeply polarized the country.

Disagreements over abortion rights, gun control and the treatment of racial minorities are some of the issues that have caused many political leaders to say they cannot take the oath or read the pledge.

Some Republicans, including the Missouri Secretary of State Jay AshcroftA candidate for governor points to amendments to the state constitution enshrining abortion rights. Ohio’s defense passed last fall, and lawyers are proposing an initiative Missouri is on the ballot this year.

Warner signed his resignation letter, which took effect two days after Ohio’s vote, which included references in the Bible to “cowards, scoundrels, murderers” and others being “thrown into a flaming lake of burning sulfur.” . He did not respond to messages seeking comment.

This month in Tennessee, Democratic Representative Justin Jones refused to lead the pledge during a legislative session. He gained national attention after being one of two Black lawmakers who were briefly expelled from the state House by Republicans last year after he and two other Democrats attended an event. Demonstration advocating gun control From the House floor, GOP members expressed outrage because it violated chamber rules.

Tennessee House members are tapped to find a minister to lead a prayer before the start of the session and then lead the chamber in the pledge of the American flag. Just before doing so, Jones handed the House clerk a handwritten note that read, “I would prefer not to lead the Pledge of Allegiance.”

His denial came as he criticized his Republican colleagues for being racist and focusing on what he said were the wrong issues, such as LGBTQ issues, instead of addressing gun control nearly a year after the killings of six people, including three children. + Targeting the community. killed in a school shooting In Nashville.

While another Democratic lawmaker, an Army veteran, led the pledge without commenting on Jones’ refusal, Republicans immediately expressed their outrage at Jones’ decision. GOP Rep. Jeremy Faison called Jones’ refusal to say the Pledge of Allegiance a “disgrace.”

“In my opinion, he should resign. It’s an embarrassment to the veterans and those who came before us,” Faison said.

Jones later responded to Republican criticism, saying that he “could not bring myself to indulge their demonstrative patriotism as they continue to support an insurrectionist for president and undermine liberty and justice for all.”

Jones’ stance is reminiscent of a similar stance in 2001, when then-Tennessee Representative Henry Brooks said he was chastised by Republican leaders for refusing to join his fellow lawmakers in the pledge. Brooks, who is Black, told media outlets at the time that she had not read the Pledge of Allegiance since she was in the third grade and refused to do so because the American flag represented the colonies that enslaved her ancestors. .

Earlier this year, former President Donald Trump refused to sign the loyalty oath in Illinois, a pledge dating back to the McCarthy era.

The portion that Trump left unsigned affirms that candidates do not “directly or indirectly teach or advocate the overthrow of the government” of the United States or a state or “by force or by any unlawful means. Do not make any illegal changes to the form of governments.” Trump, who signed the voluntary oath during his presidential tenure in 2016 and 2020, has not yet explained why he did not sign it this time.

He has faced several state lawsuits stop him from the ballot Relating to his role in the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, an issue that is currently US Supreme Court,

His spokesman, Steven Cheung, did not respond to an email seeking comment, but told news outlets in a statement in January: “President Trump will once again take the oath of office on January 20, 2025, and will ‘faithfully execute the office. “The President of the United States of America and I will, to the best of our ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Unlike the Pledge of Allegiance, refusal to take the oath of office often carries a high price of being unable to hold elected office.

In Missouri, Ashcroft attracted attention in October when he suggested he would not be able to take the oath of office as governor if voters protected abortion rights in the state constitution.

“Whenever a statewide official takes the oath of office, we take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the State of Missouri,” he told reporters after an abortion-related court hearing. “If I cannot do this then I will have to leave my post. I cannot take an oath and then refuse to do what I said I would do.”

The issue has also irked Republicans in the Missouri Senate. State Senator Rick Brattin, head of the state chapter of the Freedom Caucus, said that if voters in November approve a proposed ballot initiative to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, “you will have to take an oath to protect and defend the cause of death.” Will have to take it.” Of the unborn.”

Similar concerns were expressed at the federal level in the historic Dobbs case. Roe vs. Wade overturned,

The Foundation to Abolish Abortion argued that the High Court’s decision in the case will play a significant role in how much people respect the Constitution. “American public officials are bound by an oath to obey the Court only insofar as the Court follows the Constitution, but no further,” the group and other abortion opponents wrote in a letter. friend of the court brief,

Chris Redfern said Republicans’ concerns over adding abortion rights to the state constitution stand in stark contrast to the way Democrats have handled previous flashpoints. He was elected chair of the Ohio Democratic Party in 2005 after voters repealed the state constitution’s ban on gay marriage. He said he did not recall any opponent of the amendment considering renouncing their oath or resigning over it.

“In the old days, before the Tea Party and then Trump, there was a seriousness about the Constitution and taking the oath of office on Inauguration Day,” said Redfern, a former state legislator. “Especially with the polarization brought about by Donald Trump, I don’t think there’s any respect for these types of devices. Certainly there is no compliance, but I don’t believe legislators really care that much. They know they have to take an oath every two weeks to get paid.”


Crusi reported from Nashville, Tennessee.


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