By Devon Downey, Idaho Reports
Atheists in Idaho law enforcement are forced to lie.
They are forced to lie before they even start their job, and they must do so while signing a code of ethics.
Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Division Administrator Victor McCraw would like to change that.
All POST officers must abide by and sign the ethics code, which states “I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals, dedicating myself before God to my chosen profession – law enforcement.” The phrase “before God” drew the objections of an applicant, who argued that it was ironic that they would have to lie while signing an ethics form.
McCraw consulted with a Deputy Attorney General and the POST Council about potential changes to the code of ethics that removed the religious language.
An unnamed Deputy Attorney General told McCraw that the language would be a constitutional issue. If challenged in a lawsuit, McCraw recounted, POST would lose. When reached for comment, the Attorney General’s office said they had no formal position on this issue.
The POST Council requested McCraw change the language. McCraw recommended “before God” be replaced by “with sincere and unfaltering commitment.” A divided POST Council agreed.
On January 15th, McCraw presented the rule change came to the House Judiciary and Rules committee.
Representative Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, objected to the change, criticizing the removal of references to God and questioned whether other sections of the code could be removed based on objections.
Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, asked why objectors couldn’t use a different code. McCraw stated that it was something that the council considered, but that they wanted a universal code for all officers.
Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, attempted to stop the rule change. “The founding documents of our country and state are based on the belief of a supreme being,” Zito told Idaho Reports.
“Removing God because of fear of litigation is not a sound reason,” said Zito. “I support providing an optional oath for those who do not believe in God. I also believe it is important to protect the strong belief in God of those in my district and our state.”
The committee did not accept the changes that removed “before God.” They allowed all other changes to pass. Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, was the only one to disagree.
The “basis of the constitution is the separation of church and state. Government can’t impose who to pledge to,” said Wintrow. “It’s unconstitutional. [That’s] not me [saying that], it’s the AG saying it. God’s most important gift is choice.”
“It’s unconstitutional. [The pledge] is a religious test to gain employment”, explained Kathy Griesmyer, Policy Director of the ACLU of Idaho. Griesmyer cited Torcaso v. Watkins (1961) where the Supreme Court said, “[w]e repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person ‘to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.’”
Since the House did not approve the changes, the code of ethics still includes the “before God” pledge. McCraw noted that POST would be unable to make any changes until the end of the legislative session. When the session ends, they will temporarily change the pledge to add “or with sincere and unfaltering commitment”. Then the POST committee will have to decide what changes to present to the legislature in 2019.
The ACLU, POST, and at least one person in the attorney general’s office believe the current POST rules are unconstitutional. Now, it’s up to the 2019 Legislature to decide what happens next.