Brando's refusing taking "religious oath"

From the IMDB, trivia on the great Brando:

Q: What happened then…? Was he allowed to wittness? Did he refuse to witness? Did they make up another oath for the (coolest) man (on earth)?

I asked the judge if I must swear by God, or upon the bible in court. (My objections were the opposite of Brando’s, of course. The Lord says specifically not to do that.) I was advised that I could simply affirm that I would speak the truth, and acknowledge that I accepted that my testimony was covered by the laws against perjury.

This is in Virginia.


Most jurisdictions today do not have anyone swear a religious oath, because the U.S. is a secular country. The normal formula is merely to swear that one will tell the truth. No Bible is needed. However, since some religious sects are not supposed to swear oaths of any kind and for non-religious people of all sorts, it should always be possible to affirm that one will tell the truth, avoiding swearing entirely.

This is enshrined in the Constitution, in a number of places.

Article I, section 3
The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for
that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation.

Article 2, section 1
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he [the President] 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.”

Article 6
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the
several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of
the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or
Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be
required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United

Amendment 4
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and
effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and
no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or
affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the
persons or things to be seized.

It should never be an issue anywhere at any time in the U.S. not to swear a religious oath.

How do courts swear in atheists? by some guy named Cecil Adams.

Now why should I believe that nut? I can’t even find him in the phone book.

Ok, thanks. Wasn’t as dramatic as I was hoping for of course.

Who’s this Cecil guy by the way?

Just for completeness, in England the Oaths Act 1978 makes “provisions for the forms in which oaths may be administered and states that a solemn affirmation shall be of the same force and effect as an oath”. I was in an Industrial Tribunal only today where two out of five of the witnesses afirmed and my feeling is that in the UK nothing would be thought odd about this.

The wording used will be something like: “I do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

When I testified in Wisconsin I was asked to “swear or affirm.” No need to choose one or the other.

Most jurisdictions today aren’t in the US.

Same thing when I registered to vote in Michigan. I was all set to ask if I could affirm instead of swear, so it was a bit of an anticlimax when the registrar said “Do you swear or affirm…”

When I had jury duty we were sworn in a group (twice, before voir dere and before the actual trial began). The oath began “Do you swear or affirm, by Almighty God…” Both times I responded no because of the religious content, but they didn’t notice I ended up an alternate juror anyway.

And yet the OP asked about a U.S. case. Go figure.

In my state there is no particular form of oath prescribed. Generally a witness is asked if they “swear or affirm that the testimony you give in the case now in hearing will be the truth.” The only time I have seen any difficulty is with Amish or Mennonite witnesses who sometimes have to be reassured that they are not being asked to do a “so help you God” type oath but only to affirm that they are going to tell the truth. .

The OP’s IMDB link also contains this trivia:

"Contrary to popular belief, Brando was not an atheist. At the trial where he supposedly revealed his atheism and refused to swear upon a Bible, his actual words were, “While I do believe in God, I do not believe in the same way as others, so I would prefer not to swear on the Bible”.

On a semi-related hijack:

Can you, while under oath or affirmation, refuse to answer a lawyer’s question as posed on the grounds that by so doing you would be not telling the whole truth? By that I mean, if a lawyer demands that you answer a question “Yes or No,” and the answer is really “Maybe,” or “Sometimes,” or “Often, but not in this case,” or something like that, can you refuse to answer as directed?

On the two occasions I’ve testified in court (in Quebec), I was simply asked whether or not I wanted to swear on the Bible. On one occasion, IIRC, I was told to either put my hand on the Bible or raise my hand, depending.

I don’t think you can refuse to answer the question. You would not, however, have to give a yes or no answer. If faced with such a query, I’d suggest answering with “the answer isn’t simply yes or no.”

I once had jury duty, and the state attorney was getting really annoyed because a witness wouldn’t give yes or no answers to questions, despite the state attorney’s attempt to limit the answer to yes or no. When the state attorney complained to the judge, the judge just looked at him and said, “he’s answering your question.”

In England (I expect it is similar in Scotland but it is never safe to assume the English and Scotish legal systems are the same!) the courts go to enormous trouble to accomodate those with different religions or none when it comes to swearing/affirming.

This website is for trainee judges and it gives a “how to” guide for a whole list of religions. The case mentioned by Triskadecamus in post #2 - a Christian who’s beliefs forbid swearing an oath - is specifically mentioned.

To me one interesting point is the guidance that the form does not matter and that the important point is that it binds the individual’s conscience.