Alabama revises voter form with religious oath, lawsuit ends

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — An atheist group asked a judge Wednesday to end its federal lawsuit against the state of Alabama since officials have revised its voter registration forms, which required an oath to God.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and Secretary of State John Merrill ’s office jointly requested that a court dismiss the case, which was filed last year over a required oath for would-be voters that includes the words “so help me God,” court documents show.

The updated form still includes the wording, but it also has a box that allows registrants to opt out of the religious portion of the oath “because of a sincerely held belief.” Applicants still must “swear or affirm” to requirements including being a U.S. citizen; being eligible to vote; and not being affiliated with groups that advocate the overthrow of the government.

The Wisconsin-based foundation filed suit on behalf of four atheists who argued the oath was a religious requirement that violated their constitutional rights. One of the plaintiffs, Randall Cragun, said he had refused to register to vote in the state because of the oath but could do so now.

“It is disappointing that the state prevented me from voting in the 2020 elections, but I am looking forward to participating in the future, and I now have a better appreciation of the value my voice and other individual voices contribute to shaping the state,” Cragun said in a statement.

Two more people who sued, spouses Chris Nelson and Heather Coleman, registered to vote using the new form in March, a statement from the foundation said.

Merrill, who was sued as the state's top election official, said both online and paper forms were altered to include the ability to opt out.

“While the language ‘so help me God’ has been included on voter registration applications since well before I took office, this issue was just brought to light, and we remain willing to accommodate all voters of Alabama," he said in a statement.

The foundation and the state, which is controlled by Republicans, each agreed to pay their own costs in the lawsuit, according to the dismissal request.

Jay Reeves, The Associated Press