Ummm…. Can I legally testify?

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So, I was enjoying reading about how Obama had to retake the Oath of Office because (Bush-appointed) Roberts flubbed it at the swearing in ceremony, because I was delighted that Obama did not use a Bible this time around.

Then, I realized that maybe I can’t legally swear an oath.  An oath requires swearing over something sacred.   In the United States, individuals take oaths by putting their one hand on the Bible and holding the other “up to God.”  That sure would not mean much to me.  In fact, I would be pretty offended if I was told I had to do that.  I am not exactly sure there is any material object I might consider “sacred.”

So, what does an oath mean coming from an atheist?  I say it means just as much.  All believers determine their faith and beliefs in their own way, so it’s not like there’s any documentable consistency in how people honor their commitment to God.  Honestly, I would think that an atheist’s promise to tell the truth would mean more.  As an atheist, I feel I have entrusted myself to humanity, to society, to the natural world.  If I betray that, I really would have nothing.

I did some digging and found this explanation:

In U.S. District Court, which is a common standard, the oath is amended to: “You do affirm that all the testimony you are about to give in the case now before the court will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; this you do affirm under the pains and penalties of perjury?”

Hopefully I never have to deal with that, because I would not want to have to betray my principles or risk inviting prejudice against my testimony.  What a rotten conundrum religious privilege provides.

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There are 2 Comments to "Ummm…. Can I legally testify?"

  • Will Rundle says:

    Not in Arkansas or Maryland, we can’t! Also, we can’t hold any public office according to various state constitutions. It’s actually kind of surprising that those didn’t get superseded until 1961, but then, I can’t imagine they were frequently enforced in modern times.

    As I side note, I disagree with you about the atheist’s promise potentially meaning more. There are plenty of devout Christians who just as strongly as you do, and simply place their values in additional or different places. Honesty is ultimately a personal trait, not a religious one…
    …but you don’t need to be told that, I’m sure 🙂

  • shamelesslyatheist says:

    Here in Canada, there are oaths which can be taken that aren’t over any book, holy or no. Legally speaking, oaths are verbal contracts and need not have any religious content be be binding.

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