May 21, 2009

Atheists in the Courthouse (or: You’re Not Helping, part 2)

Posted in Atheism, Law tagged , , , at 10:25 am by Andrew

In the U.S. — and in most, if not all of the Western world — a witness in court can elect whether to “swear” an oath (by reference to God) or to “affirm” under penalty of perjury the same oath (without such a reference). As far as I know, this seems to please just about everybody; religious folks can swear to God if they want, people who belong to religious sects that forbid those sorts of oaths (such as, I believe, Jehovah’s Witnesses), can affirm, and atheists can also affirm. Everybody wins.

Well, almost. For this particular nitwit, he decided to object to a police officer being sworn during a routine traffic court hearing in Vancouver, BC:

THE DISPUTANT: Your Honour, I object to the court proceedings starting off with a lie. It is not ‑‑

THE COURT: Well, what is ‑‑

THE DISPUTANT: It’s not a good indication that this is a fair trial if the witness starts off lying about there being a God and that he swears to it.

Ultimately, the cop concedes to affirm under oath (without reference to God) rather than be sworn in with the religious reference, which is what I imagine most of us would do when someone is ranting in the courtroom about irrelevancies. But let me be clear: atheists shouldn’t behave this way, and if you tried this sort of nonsense in a U.S. courtroom, you’d quickly find yourself in contempt.


  1. John Huey said,

    When I was sworn in for jury duty in Indiana, there was no choice to make – the oath was ‘do you solemnly swear or affirm to…” – the options were built into the oath.

  2. Andrew said,

    JH: True, because jury duty is basically a cattle call. In my experience,
    individual witnesses at trial are given the opportunity to elect.

    P.S. Had you objected, they would have deleted the ‘swear’ from the oath just for you. 🙂 And please note that I think it’s perfectly reasonable to do so — for your own oath, that is.

    • John Huey said,

      Well, the use of the term ‘swear’ doesn’t bother me in the least – to my ears, it is a term that might have had a religious meaning in the past but in current usage is almost entirely secular. On the other hand, the use of the phrase ‘So help you (me) God’, irks me to no end – I hated it that Roberts inserted those extra words when he swore in Obama.

  3. I like what your “disputant” said, and say Amen to that! 🙂

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