By:  LINDSEY O'NEILL, ESQ.

The U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, recently issued a legal opinion regarding religious objections to oath of office.  The Office of Legal Counsel concluded that requiring postal workers to take the “oath of office” does not “burden a person’s exercise of religion” or violate their civil rights. 

Under federal law, Postal Service employees must subscribe to the following oath or affirmation: 

 “I, _____, 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.”

As more fully described in the legal opinion, apparently some postal workers/applications objected to taking the oath of office - particularly to having to pledge to (1) “support . . . the Constitution,” (2) “defend the Constitution,” and (3) “bear true faith and allegiance to” the Constitution on the ground that doing so would violate their sincerely held religious views.  Those who objected argued that that their religions forbid military service or placing an allegiance to a temporal power over God. However, it was concluded that oath of office would not interfere with applicants’ right to freely exercise their religious beliefs. 

Highlights from the opinion concluding that the oath of office does not violate applicants’ freedom of religion include that:

  • Supporting the Constitution against all enemies requires simply that a person abide by the nation’s constitutional system of government and its laws.  It was not intended to create specific responsibilities per se, but to assure that those in positions of public trust are willing to live by the constitutional processes of our system.
  • The reference to "defending the Constitution against all enemies” does not require anyone to take up arms, or burden the religious exercise of persons who object to resorting to arms, but requires only that a person abide by the nation’s constitutional system of government and defend its laws by rejecting the use of force to overthrow it.
  • Pledging that one will “bear true faith and allegiance" to the Constitution does not require one to subordinate his or her allegiance to God to the United States. The phrase refers only to requiring that one pledge an honest and faithful commitment to the Constitution as opposed to other temporal powers—not as opposed to God.

The legal opinion also notes that the Postal Service has a “…compelling interest in ensuring, including through an oath, that prospective employees both support the Constitution and [are] committed to faithfully performing their jobs.”  Part of the reason for the oath is to make ensure a minimal level of loyalty and conscientious conduct on the part of federal employees and officers.  People who have “…engag[ed] in insurrection or rebellion against the Constitution, or giv[en] ‘aid or comfort to the enemies thereof” are simply barred from holding government office or employment.  

Postal workers in particular must meet certain minimum standards of loyalty and support of our laws required by all officers of our government.  Postal employees are in a position of public trust, with “… unique access both to the mail—which contains valuable items such as social-security checks, tax returns, and correspondence—and to public and private buildings.”

You can read the entire legal opinion by clicking here

Our legal rights, including freedom of religion and other civil rights, can sometimes present complicated questions in the real world.  If you have a question about how a federal law affects you in your job, contact a civil rights attorney or a labor and employment attorney in your area today.  You can also learn more about the law in LawInfo’s Free Legal Resource Center.