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Rewriting the state's oath

State Rep. Darryl Owens has a good idea; he just hasn't taken it far enough.

The Louisville Democrat proposed legislation last week that would end a 160-year-old requirement that Kentucky state officers, legislators and lawyers swear they haven't been dueling.

The state constitution requires them to swear that: "... (I) have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it, nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have I acted as second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus offending, so help me God."

The oath never fails to elicit giggles and snickering at otherwise dignified swearing-in ceremonies, and Owens thinks that is bad for Kentucky's image. Besides, the state's last known duel was fought in 1867.

I'm for anything that improves Kentucky's image. And there's a lot about our 1891 constitution that needs changing. But this issue is worth a closer look.

The Kentucky Encyclopedia says there were 41 duels fought in the state between 1790 and 1867. Sixteen men died, but there were never any prosecutions. In an attempt to end the illegal practice, the oath has been part of Kentucky's constitution since 1849.

When you think about it, the oath was a smart idea that worked pretty well. That's because duels were generally fought by ambitious men, the same men who wanted to be Kentucky's lawyers, legislators and state officials.

So instead of just deleting the archaic anti-dueling language, as Owens wants to do, let's think about modern illegal activities that persist among the ambitious men and women who now seek to be Kentucky's lawyers, legislators and state officials.

With that idea in mind, here's my proposed rewrite of Section 228 of the Kentucky Constitution:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and be faithful and true to the Commonwealth of Kentucky so long as I continue a citizen thereof, and that I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the office of .... according to law.

And I do further solemnly swear (or affirm) that since the adoption of the present Constitution, I, being a citizen of this State, have not lined my pockets nor enhanced my political standing by any of the following means:

Paving constituents' driveways and private roads; buying votes; conspiring with highway contractors to rig or award bids; arranging sweetheart deals to lease or sell my property to public agencies;

Accepting money, favors or jobs from lobbyists and special interests; giving government jobs or huge taxpayer-funded raises to my friends, relatives or supporters; steering public work to my businesses; doing special favors for my friends, relatives and campaign contributors; eating high on the hog at fancy restaurants or visiting strip clubs on the public tab; so help me God.

My proposed oath would narrow the field of potential lawyers, legislators and state officials, perhaps urging more honest men and women to get involved in the law and public life. Plus, can you think of a more effective system for term limits?

OK, so maybe it wouldn't eliminate giggles and snickering at public swearing-in ceremonies. But, like the once-useful dueling ban, it would do a lot to improve Kentucky's image — and a whole lot more.