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Old 09-04-2003, 07:30 PM
wolf_meister wolf_meister is offline
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Court oath - refusing the Bible

In court, suppose for religious (or whatever reasons) you do NOT want to be "sworn in" using the Bible. What do they use as an alternate ? I remember seeing Marlon Brando testifying at his son's murder trial and remembered Brando refusing the Bible. They did get something else for him to be "sworn in" but I don't know what it was.
So, what are the alternatives?
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  #2  
Old 09-04-2003, 07:32 PM
MonkeyMensch MonkeyMensch is offline
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I'm not sure of what the exact wording would be for a non-Bible witness but the hammer behind testimony has always been prosecution for perjury.
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Old 09-04-2003, 07:42 PM
Musicat Musicat is offline
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An athiest friend who has in-court experience told me once that when the time came and he was asked to put his hand on the bible and swear, he always said, "No, but I will affirm it." That was always accepted by the court (altho it might be argued that he biased his testimony from that action).

I was prepared to do the same when I was in court a few years ago, but a bible did not make an appearance. Instead, I was asked to raise my right hand, and "Do you solemly swear..." so I had no problem with it.
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Old 09-04-2003, 07:46 PM
Musicat Musicat is offline
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Not only was he an athiest friend, he was also an atheist.
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Old 09-04-2003, 08:42 PM
wolf_meister wolf_meister is offline
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I've always wondered why they don't have you swear on the US Constitution ? (A small book consisting of the Constitution would make it convenient for court use).
It would seem more logical taking the oath on the "law of the land" so to speak.
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Old 09-04-2003, 08:56 PM
j666 j666 is offline
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The one time I had to legally testify I was all geared up to refuse the oath in favor of affirmation on the grounds of separation of church and state (in which I firmly believe.)

No bible was presented and no mention of any god was made in the oath.

I still told the truth.
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Old 09-04-2003, 09:14 PM
Telemark Telemark is offline
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Some clever guy named Cecil answered this once.

http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a1_145.html
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  #8  
Old 09-04-2003, 09:40 PM
Flamsterette_X Flamsterette_X is offline
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I remember from Law 12 class that you can affirm to tell the truth, and it's still just as legally binding.

F_X
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  #9  
Old 09-04-2003, 11:10 PM
David Simmons David Simmons is offline
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I think swearing on the Bible is a bunch of folderol, but I wouldn't make a fuss about it, expecially in a jury trial. After all, what do I care? I intend to tell the truth as far as I know it anyway and I don't mind going through the motions.

When you are called as a witness it doesn't come as a surprise to you. So if I were strongly opposed I would tell the attorney whose witness I was and I'm sure that he could arrange for you make an affirmation without you having to publicly refuse the Bible. That should avoid, or at least lessen, the possibility that some super religious person on the jury would be prejudiced against your testimony.
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  #10  
Old 09-04-2003, 11:27 PM
Northern Piper Northern Piper is offline
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We covered this issue a few years ago: Swearing Atheists.
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  #11  
Old 09-05-2003, 06:12 AM
kferr kferr is offline
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What would happen if when they said "Do you swear/affirm to tell the truth..." you said "no"? According to m-w.com, perjury is lying after you've promised to tell the truth. If I don't promise to tell the truth, what can be done?
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  #12  
Old 09-05-2003, 08:16 AM
CurtC CurtC is offline
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My guess would be: contempt of court.
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Old 09-05-2003, 09:00 AM
Cliffy Cliffy is offline
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CurtC got it. The court is entitled to every man's testimony (with the exception, in the U.S. based off the 5th Amendment, of persons whose testimony may incriminate them). If you are called as a witness and simply refuse to testify, you can be held in contempt of court. This will lead to fines and, if necessary, incarceration until you are willing to testify.

--Cliffy
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Old 09-05-2003, 09:04 AM
sailor sailor is offline
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Does the name Susan McDougal ring any bells?
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Old 09-05-2003, 09:46 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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Just to put it explicitly in this thread, the Constitution gives affirmation as an alternative to swearing in two places:

Quote:
Article 1, Section 3
Clause 6: The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
and

Quote:
Article 2, Section1
Clause 8: Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:--"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Therefore, this has not been a problem since the very beginning of the United States.
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  #16  
Old 09-05-2003, 10:57 AM
kferr kferr is offline
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I'm sure that in the eyes of the law this is just splitting hairs, but to me there is a difference between "I refuse to answer that question for no good reason (not 5th amendment)" and "I'll answer that question, but give no guarantee as to the truthfulness of the answer."
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Old 09-05-2003, 11:11 AM
Telemark Telemark is offline
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It's a difference that makes no difference to the court. You are telling the court that you won't be giving (or may not be giving) a full and truthful answer. I'm guessing either will directly lead to contempt charges. What is the use of testimony that you have already said is suspect?
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  #18  
Old 09-05-2003, 01:31 PM
Chefguy Chefguy is offline
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So if the baliff says "Do you swear blahblahblah...so help you God", and you say "I do", but you don't believe in god, could you then lie on the stand and later, if caught out, say "well, my oath was invalid because I'm an atheist; therefore, I was free to say whatever I please"?. Sort of a 'Catch-22 defense', if you will. It's an interesting debate issue.
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  #19  
Old 09-05-2003, 01:44 PM
Telemark Telemark is offline
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Again, I'm guessing that contempt of court is awaiting the person who tries this.
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  #20  
Old 09-05-2003, 02:03 PM
Monty Monty is offline
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Telemark: I'm guessing that a perjury charge is awaiting the person who tries it.
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  #21  
Old 09-05-2003, 03:09 PM
Telemark Telemark is offline
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You're probably right, that makes more sense.
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  #22  
Old 09-05-2003, 03:28 PM
Spavined Gelding Spavined Gelding is offline
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If it is any help, we have a fair number of Amish in the area. As I understand it their interpretation of “Thou shall not take the Lord’s name in vain” extends to the oath taken by witnesses in law suits and court trials. Typically they will not swear to tell the truth. They will affirm that their testimony is truthful. Our rules provide that alternative—“swear or affirm.” Either method is more than sufficient to support a perjury or a contempt prosecution.
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  #23  
Old 09-05-2003, 03:29 PM
spingears spingears is offline
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Swearing and/or Affirming

The oath may vary from state to state and possibly court to court.
Having served on the local criminal grand jury the foreperson asked each witness to state their name, and government agency as applicable, and were sworn in by asking:

"Do you swear or affirm that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?"

A simple yes was all that was required but some older individuals would answer "Yes so help me God." or something similar.
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Old 09-05-2003, 06:18 PM
Agback Agback is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Spavined Gelding
If it is any help, we have a fair number of Amish in the area. As I understand it their interpretation of “Thou shall not take the Lord’s name in vain” extends to the oath taken by witnesses in law suits and court trials.
Actually, I think you will find that they base their objection to swearing on Mathhew 5:33-37, not on Exodus 20:7.

"5:33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:
5:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:
5:35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.
5:36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
5:37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."

That seems plain enough to me. Swearing oaths if forbidden by the Bible.

Regards,


Agback
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  #25  
Old 09-05-2003, 06:40 PM
slipster slipster is offline
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It is customary for the government to require that a person affirm, rather than swear, in other contexts besides court testimony. For instance, federal civil servants typically swear an oath on their first day on the job. I recall that during one such ceremony in which I participated a coworker politely objected that she was an athiest, and so she inducted separately, saying "I do" to a query as to whether she affirmed that she would uphold the Constitution, etc.

BTW, just as The Bible appears to take a dim view of swearing oaths, it is also seems critical of public prayer in various places. It was the custom of my high school football team to say a prayer on the sidelines prior to a game. My father, a Roman Catholic of a particularly conservative bent, wrote a letter of complaint, objecting that they should do that in the privacy of the locker room rather than as an ostentatious display. (Televised services are presumably another issue as (1) they are generally held in a church and (2) on has to tune in to see them).
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Old 09-05-2003, 07:45 PM
wolf_meister wolf_meister is offline
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Northern Piper & Telemark

I did not confine this posting strictly to atheists.
Notice I did NOT use the word atheist in my original posting? I was wondering (as someone mentioned about the Amish) if people objected to swearing on the Bible for whatever reason and what is the alternative.

Incidentally, if I were on trial for murder (let's say) I wouldn't even make a big deal of saying "I affirm" instead of "I swear". After all, this would taint someone's image of me and bring me closer to a guilty verdict (IMHO).
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Old 09-05-2003, 08:51 PM
Spavined Gelding Spavined Gelding is offline
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Agback, thank you for clearing that up. That makes more sense.
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  #28  
Old 09-05-2003, 09:34 PM
photopat photopat is offline
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What I've wondered about recently is, how would Judge Roy-my god is bigger than your god-Moore have handled it if a person in his court didn't want to swear on a bible, but rather affirm, or use one of the optional oaths for non-christians?

I suppose it wouldn't have been an issue, but based on his recent activities I'm not so sure.
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  #29  
Old 09-05-2003, 10:02 PM
Eva Luna Eva Luna is offline
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In Immigration Court, there was no Bible involved, although the usual oath used the "swear" language. Whenever someone said they wouldn't swear an oath (for religious reasons or whatever), the judge would simply change the wording to "affirm, on penalty of perjury." Pretty tidy, no?

Eva Luna, former Immigration Court interpreter
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  #30  
Old 09-05-2003, 10:49 PM
county county is offline
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I do a lot of administrative law and in those various hearings the hearing official/administrative law judge/arbitrator/whoever usually asks the reporter to swear the witness - no bible and the simple question of "Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth"

I have no idea what would happen if someone said no but I doubt they would get to testify.
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  #31  
Old 09-05-2003, 10:52 PM
Bambi Hassenpfeffer Bambi Hassenpfeffer is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by slipster
BTW, just as The Bible appears to take a dim view of swearing oaths, it is also seems critical of public prayer in various places. It was the custom of my high school football team to say a prayer on the sidelines prior to a game. My father, a Roman Catholic of a particularly conservative bent, wrote a letter of complaint, objecting that they should do that in the privacy of the locker room rather than as an ostentatious display. (Televised services are presumably another issue as (1) they are generally held in a church and (2) on has to tune in to see them).
FYI, that'd be from Matthew 6:5-6:
Quote:
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
I always wanted to stand near the Prayer at the Pole kids in high school and hold a sign that said "MATTHEW 6:5", just to see if anyone knew what I was talking about.
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  #32  
Old 09-06-2003, 01:15 AM
Northern Piper Northern Piper is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by wolf_meister
Northern Piper & Telemark

I did not confine this posting strictly to atheists.
Notice I did NOT use the word atheist in my original posting? I was wondering (as someone mentioned about the Amish) if people objected to swearing on the Bible for whatever reason and what is the alternative.
wolf_meister, and I didn't give that name to that thread - that's what the OP in that case called it. Did you look at it? you'll see that the discussion in it went farther afield than just atheists and considered Christians such as Quakers who objected to swearing an oath, and non-christians such as Jews, Muslims and First Nations.
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  #33  
Old 09-07-2003, 01:25 AM
wolf_meister wolf_meister is offline
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Northern Piper
Sorry, I just looked at the posting title and thought it was just "Atheist" related. That posting had some good information too. I should have searched the archives more thoroughly.

I would have answered your posting sooner but the "Boards" today have been awful. I'd click on Message Boards then General Questions, etc. Somewhere along the way I'd get booted. (With luck, maybe this will get posted).
Thanks again Northern.
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  #34  
Old 09-07-2003, 04:55 PM
Northern Piper Northern Piper is offline
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You're welcome.
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