What do you do when you're asked to swear an oath on a bible?

I live in North Carolina, United States. Last year, I was called up for jury duty. Part of the swearing in process was to approach a gate structure where bibles were placed. Each of us was to place our right hand on it and swear our oath that we were eligible for duty and telling the truth, etc.

Prior to that, I remember having to swear on a bible as part of my process for obtaining a US Passport.

The thought just recently crossed my mind.. what do you do if you are called up for court or any situation that would require you to be sworn in? I know many of you live outside of the US, where I do not know the process for being sworn in. However, what would you do in the situation that normally requires you to swear on the Bible?

Posted: May 22nd 2009

Dave Hitt www

I would have no hesitation about swearing on the bible, especially if I was giving testimony. Asking to affirm instead is the same as announcing to the jury, in a loud voice, “Hey! I’m An Atheist! When you’re considering my testimony, feel free to apply any and all bigoted assumptions you may have.”

I would also swear on a stack of Spiderman comic books. I’m giving my word, so what I’ve got my hand on, or the exact wording of my oath, doesn’t matter. I would, however, be more reverent if I were swearing on a Kurt Vonnegut novel.

Posted: May 23rd 2009

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George Ricker www

I would not swear an oath on a Bible.

If you live in North Carolina, state law offers options.

Go to http://law.onecle.com/north-carolina/11-oaths/index.html to view the general statues regarding oaths.

N.C. Gen. Stat. 11-3 provides that oath-takers may simply take the oath without using any holy book if that is their preference.

N.C. Gen. Stat. 11-4 states ““When a person to be sworn shall have conscientious scruples against taking an oath in the manner prescribed by G.S. 11‑2, 11‑3, or 11‑7, he shall be permitted to be affirmed. In all cases the words of the affirmation shall be the same as the words of the prescribed oath, except that the word “affirm” shall be substituted for the word “swear” and the words “so help me God” shall be deleted.

It would be much better if all oaths were replaced with simple affirmations. To paraphrase a statement by Thomas Jefferson (and many others), an oath is unnecessary to an honest person and useless with a rogue.

Posted: May 23rd 2009

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flagellant www

In UK courts, it is normal to swear on a bible.

However, in the 1960s, I was called for jury duty and, when the bible was presented to me for the oath, I said 'May I give an affirmation?’ The judge asked 'Do you agree to be bound by your affirmation?’ I replied positively. There was no further exchange.

I was then given a card, carrying a statement starting 'I do most solemnly swear and affirm…’ I read it and joined the jury. It was all very low-key.

None of the other jurors affirmed. Were I to be called again, I’d probably be tempted, when asked to swear on a bible, to ask 'Why?’ but I don’t think I’d recommend that approach in the Carolinas.

You could use my more youthful approach: I’m sure there would be local information about the procedure – some Christians decline to swear on the bible, too – and you wouldn’t be unique.

(PS When I asked to make my affirmation, I half-expected it to cause me difficulty. But, even in the jury room, I was treated with respect, perhaps because of my independence of mind. In the end, I believe I had a great deal of influence on the verdict. It might not be the same in NC.)

Posted: May 23rd 2009

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SmartLX www

I live in Australia, and we have the option to substitute a secular affirmation for the religious oath. Legally, the penalty for breaking it is the same.

Posted: May 22nd 2009

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Paula Kirby www

It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I would ask to give an affirmation instead. It would be utterly dishonest of me to swear on the bible, since the bible means nothing to me; and it would be rather perverse to exhibit such dishonesty whilst swearing to be completely honest, wouldn’t it!

Posted: May 22nd 2009

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In America, atheists and religious believers whose holy book is not the bible can choose affirmation instead of swearing on a bible. Read here to learn about this alternate procedure and its ramifications.

Keep in mind, Christians who are secularists can also choose the affirmation option if they want to be consistent in their support of showing no favoritism to religion, especially for the particular religious brand of Christianity, in legal settings.

It seems, however, because of the immense bias and prejudice that Christians have against atheists and even other non-Christian religious believers, that choosing affirmation instead of swearing could endanger both the judge’s and the jury’s (as it most likely will be composed of a certain percentage of Christians) perception of the witness/defendant/plaintiff being trustworthy.

I would unreservedly affirm and since it follows that affirmation could risk winning a legal case of mine or for somebody else, I have no desire whatsoever at present to be bothered with strongly religious cultures and am happy as a peach living outside America (though born, raised, and educated in America) in a secular country.

This Christian bias is reminiscent of how Islamic law regard women’s testimonies as having half the value of a man’s. However, in Islamic countries, women know what they are up against; it is out in the open. In America, the Land of the Free, for atheists, justice is a pot shot.

Posted: May 22nd 2009

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