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Columbia legislator proposes eliminating "so help me God" clause in tax oath

March 15, 2001
By: Lauren Shepherd
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - An atheist in Christian County prompted a Columbia legislator to propose elminating the "so help me God" clause from an oath taxpayers in poor counties must sign on their personal property tax forms.

The clause is now included in the oath taxpayers must take in poorer counties, called second, third or fourth class counties. The clause is not in the oath in wealthier, first class counties, including Boone County. Counties are assigned classifications based on property values.

Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, has sponsored a bill that removes the clause completely, making the law "consistent" between all areas of the state.

"I don't think people in third and fourth class counties are any less god-fearing than people in first class counties," Wilson said.

There are 16 first class counties and 98 second, third and fourth class counties in the state, according to the Missouri Association of Counties.

Wilson first introduced the bill last year after the Christian County resident objected to the "so help me God" phrase on his personal property tax form.

Robert Oliver sued the state, claiming he should not have to sign his name to the oath and that the law violated the separation of church and state in the Constitution.

Last month the state Supreme Court ruled against Oliver, holding that the clause was constitutional. But they did agree that any taxpayer can choose to cross off the clause.

Wilson said she is only attempting to make the law equal for all counties in the state and that she is not questioning the constitutionality of including a reference to religion in the oath.

"The majority of people are supportive of having truth and consistency in statements," she said. "But there are a few people who believe that taking out 'so help me God' will make people less likely to tell the truth."

Randy Turley, chief counsel for the Missouri Tax Commission, testified for the bill at a public hearing held Tuesday. He agreed with Wilson that the bill should pass "because it makes all the counties uniform."

"It would just be a better and smoother process," Turley said.