One of 30 Honolulu police officers from the 126th recruit class was sworn in in 1997. The oath will be administered next Tuesday at the graduation of the 141st recruit class.

‘God’ dropped
from HPD oath

The department acts in response
to a complaint that the language did not
comply with the state Constitution

By Mary Adamski

The Honolulu Police Department, in response to a complaint from Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church, will delete "so help me God" from the oath taken by new officers next Tuesday.

The department announced yesterday that the traditional wording formalized in its 1991 Standards of Conduct is out.

The language did not comply with the oath for public law enforcement officers established in Article 16 of the Hawaii Constitution, said Mitch Kahle, president of the Hawaii Citizens for Separation of State and Church. It amounted to an unconstitutional religious test, he said.

Mitch Kahle : The president of the Hawaii Citizens for Separation of State and Church argued that "God" in the HPD oath violated the Constitution of Hawaii

It was the second time within a month that the Police Department acquiesced to a complaint from Kahle's group.

Earlier, it removed a biblical passage and poems containing religious content from its Web site in response to a complaint.

The department announced the change after Kahle filed a complaint yesterday with the Honolulu Police Commission charging police Chief Lee Donohue with misconduct and asking that he be ordered to desist from departmental use of the phrase for any purpose.

The Police Department's brief news release did not refer to the complaint. It stated: "The Honolulu Police Department is committed to supporting and defending the Constitution and the laws of the United States and the Constitution and laws of the state of Hawaii. As such, we will be using the oath of office that is printed in the state constitution for the upcoming graduation ceremony."

The oath will be administered next Tuesday at the graduation of the 141st recruit class.

The state constitution calls for all public employees with police powers to take this oath: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of Hawaii, and that I will faithfully discharge my duties as (specify position) to the best of my ability."

Kahle said last night that he would "be happy to" withdraw his complaint when compliance is assured. He first raised the issue a week earlier in a letter to city Corporation Counsel David Arakawa. He said he got no response.

His complaint cited a 1961 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that use of " 'so help me God' ... sets up a religious test." In effect, it would bar anyone who refuses to declare belief in God from holding a public office that requires an oath, according to the Torcaso vs. Watkins decision. The court held that any "religious test for public office unconstitutionally invades the appellant's freedom of belief and religion and therefore cannot be enforced."

The organization demanded earlier that the Honolulu Fire Department recall a safety guide because it includes a firefighter's prayer with the word "God." Kahle said he would be satisfied if the word is deleted in the next printing of the guide. He said Fire Department officials did not respond to that complaint.

Honolulu Police Department

E-mail to City Desk


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