By Michael Teninty, AMAC Action Chief Policy Analyst
( Adapted and updated by the author from and article originally published with the AMAC Foundation )
Not many of us who have taken the Oath of Office, especially in our youth, really understand it, its function, its beauty, its honest simplicity. Not many are fully aware of the consequences of upholding the oath they took, to whom the oath was taken, and the very heavy obligation that comes with it. A great many who take the Oath of Office, inside, and outside the military, or in civil service or political positions, are not completely aware of the contents of the U.S. Constitution, the document that they swore by oath or affirmation to support and defend. Indeed, many take this oath with a supplication to God that He help them to uphold the obligation they just undertook. So, let’s delve and look into this Oath of Office.
An oath is “something declared or promised… a solemn, formal declaration…” to “fulfill a pledge.” As an example, consider the very beginning of our nation, during which time our founding fathers stated in the Declaration of Independence: “… for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” By this they took a selfless oath, to each other to establish our nation; and with that oath under God, the United States of America was born.
An oath being a powerful thing, a promise publicly witnessed, attached to a person who has promised to observe it, who can be expected to preserve it, who is accountable for their personal failure to effectuate it. An oath will direct a person’s behavior and choices to its intended ends; ideally, and sometimes at great cost to themselves when the times demand it. In the case of our Constitution, those ends include preserving our republic, and our country, for ourselves, and our posterity. To take this Oath of Office, for the various offices in service to our nation, is a significant thing. In my case a life changing thing, but that is a subject for a different day.
The Oath (generally) taken by politicians, public servants, and the military, has its genesis in the Constitution itself. Presented here is a tour of oaths, beginning with the text described for the President of the United States in Article II, Section 1, Clause 8:
“…he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: — ‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’”
The next description for an Oath of Office appears in the third paragraph of Article VI and it applies to “The Senators and Representatives…” and “…the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all the executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several States…”
People from all over the world who come to the United States in the hopes of living a better life with a better future, who become naturalized citizens take an oath as well. It is a pity that citizens born here do not take an oath to the Constitution like the ones our welcomed immigrants do. For reference, this is the oath as listed in 8 CFR 337.1(a):
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
The Oath of Office for civil service and military personnel is codified in 5 U.S. Code §3331 and is as follows:
“I, [Person’s Name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
It is important to note that there are slight differences in the oath taken by military officers and military enlisted persons, but in both cases, the oath includes an unambiguous statement of fidelity to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.
For the following example, we’ll use the Oath of Office described from 5 U.S. Code § 3331. The oath begins with a name statement, this is the “publicly witnessed statement” attached to a person, the named person, who is accountable for the promise therein to “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…” An enemy to the constitution is a person, or entity, or movement, whose intent is to cause or allow harm to the values, ideas, and indeed directives that the Constitution defines.
The oath taker then promises to “… bear true faith and allegiance” to the Constitution, meaning, that they take upon themselves the personal accountability to support and defend the spirit and intent defined in the document.
To ensure that a person is not coerced into the promise of the oath, a statement that the promise is taken freely is added. The oath taker does this of their own free will, “without any mental reservation”, indicating their own belief in the premise. Their fidelity to the oath would be false if they took it with any “purpose of evasion,” so there is a statement there showing that they do not have a reason against this promise.
The potential office holder than promises to “…well and faithfully…” do their job. Both elements are key. The oath taker promises not to perform in a sub-standard way, and what they perform is done with great faith that what they are doing is right and just with respect to their appointed office, and the constitution.
But to whom is this promise made? As in the Declaration of Independence, where our founding fathers mutually pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes and sacred honor, the promise is made by the oath taker, is to the People of the United States of America.
In most cases, especially by those who have faith in God, the oath is completed with the statement “so help me God”. In this case, the person is directly asking God to assist them in faithfully keeping their oath and the commitments therein.
That is the Oath of Office. That is the promise I, and every military person, every politician, and every civil service worker, made to you; our fellow Americans, when we entered our service. There is no expiration date, there are no exceptions, and we all took this oath freely.
For those who have taken an oath to support and defend our Constitution, I humbly ask, keep observing your oath, and/or return to your oath; I humbly invite you, keep supporting and defending our Constitution, and/or begin to; for if you do, restoring our nation’s path to a beautiful future is possible. For those that haven’t taken the oath, there need not be a great event for you to take it. If there is no other witness, take the oath yourself, and live it to the best of your ability. If you need help, reach out to your local AMAC Action chapter, and connect with like-minded people to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.