St. John Houghton and Oaths

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St. John Houghton, O.Cart., by Francisco Zurbarán, (Spanish), (17th century)

This week in the news it is being reported that saying “So help me God” as part of their enlistment oaths may become optional for men and women enlisting in certain branches of the military. Christians are upset. It would be wise at this time to consider the dilemma and example of St. John Houghton.

Saint John Houghton (1486-1535) was a Carthusian hermit and the first English Catholic martyr. In 1534, he asked that he and his community be exempted from the oaths required by King Henry VIII of England under the new Act of Succession. Eventually, they were persuaded that the oath was consistent with their Catholicism, with the clause “as far as the law of Christ allows” and they returned to the Charterhouse, where (in the presence of a large armed force) the whole community made the required professions.

The next year the community was called upon to make the new oath. Again, Houghton pleaded for an exemption, but this time he and a few others were arrested, called before a special commission, and sentenced to death. John Houghton was the first to be executed. After he was hung, he was taken down alive, and the process of quartering him began. After his death, his body was chopped to pieces and hung in different parts of London. His feast day is October 25.

Federal law requires everyone who enlists or re-enlists in the Armed Forces of the United States to take the enlistment oath. Here is the oath:

I, (NAME), 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; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

Why do Christians not refuse to take this oath unless the following words are added? 

I, (NAME), 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; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, so far as the law of Christ allows. So help me God.

 

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