Newly-elected city council members in Knoxville are not legally required to acknowledge God while taking the oath of office, City of Knoxville spokesman Eric Vreeland told The Tennessee Star on Thursday.
But many other city officials must acknowledge God while taking the oath.
As reported this week, Amelia Parker, Knoxville’s newly elected city council member, recently took the oath of office — but she chose to disregard the part that mentions God.
The Democratic Socialists of America-endorsed Parker in last year’s election.
“The Knoxville Charter requires incoming Council members to take an oath affirming that they meet qualifications to serve and that they will support the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions and the City Charter,” Vreeland said in an email to The Star.
The Star sent Vreeland a link to the city’s website mentioning that various officials must include the phrase “so help me God,” while taking the oath.
Section 2.4 of the municipal code reads as follows:
Sec. 2-4. – Oaths of office.
(a)Persons required to take oath of office. Each of the following officers and employees in the administrative service, members of the board of commissioners of the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority, police officers and firefighters shall be required to take an oath of office before entering upon the discharge of his duties, which oath shall be subscribed by the person taking it and shall be filed and preserved in the office of the city recorder: (1)Officers. The mayor and each director or head of a department. (2)Police officers. Every member of the police department, including any private, special, temporary or substitute policeman which the city finds necessary to appoint. (3)Firefighters. Every member of the fire department who serves on a full time basis.(4)Commissioners of the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority. Every member of the board of commissioners of the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority.
The exact language of the oath required of these city officials reads as follows:
I, ___________, do solemnly swear that I will support, defend and abide by the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Tennessee, and the Charter and Ordinances of the City of Knoxville; that I possess all of the qualifications required by the Charter and Ordinances of the City or by general law for the office that I am about to assume; that I will discharge my duties as ___________ faithfully, honestly and impartially, so help me God.
“There is no specific requirement in either the Charter or City Code that the oath being administered to Council members include the words ‘so help me God,’” Vreeland said.
“The ordinance that you link to specifies the oaths for other positions – Mayor, directors in the executive branch, firefighters, police officers and members of the Airport Authority, but not for Council members.”
Vreeland did not elaborate as to why city council members are exempt from saying “so help me God” while taking the oath of office.
Though the phrase “so help me God” is often included in oaths taken by state and local elected officials, the Tennessee Constitution does not require its inclusion in oaths of office, according to the website of the Tennessee Secretary of State.
As The Star reported in November, members of the Democratic Socialists of America endorsed three candidates for the Knoxville City Council. They did this, apparently, as part of a movement to get candidates elected in states that support U.S. Republican President Donald Trump.
Parker was the only one of the three candidates to win his or her respective election. David Hayes and Charles Al-Bawi fell short.
Parker defeated opponent Amy Midis by a margin of 51 percent to 49 percent.
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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Amelia Parker” by Amelia Parker. Background Photo “Knoxville City Council” by Brain Stansberry. CC BY 3.0.