Missouri taxpayer sues state over religious oath on tax forms

Monday, November 16, 1998

A taxpayer in Missouri has sued the state in federal court challenging the use of a religious oath on personal property tax forms.

Represented by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Wisconsin that advocates a strict separation of church and state, Robert Oliver of Nixa sued the state last month. They argued that the oath violates the separation of church and state as well as other constituional provisions.

Oliver questioned the constitutionality of a state tax law, created in 1909, that requires “each person making a list of personal property who resides in a second, third or fourth class county of Missouri to swear that the list of personal property is true, 'So help me God.'” The forms are sent only to the state's smaller counties, according to the state Tax Commission.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, editor of Freethought Today, the foundation's publication, said that Oliver noticed the oath on his tax form earlier this year.

“We consider the law to be completely unconstitutional, because it forces citizens to profess a belief in a deity,” Gaylor said. “They can face fines and jail time for not signing it.”

Gaylor criticized the law for not applying equally throughout the state. “If you live in a wealthier county, does it suggest you are more apt to be honest?” she asked.

Randall Turley, chief legal counsel for the state Tax Commission, would say only that he was aware of the lawsuit and that the state attorney general would represent the commission. Turley added that the commission did not make the laws, but only carried them out.