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"So help me god" 
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Post "So help me god"
I thought this was somewhat topical for our discussion here. Yesterday, North Carolina's Superior Court ruled in ACLU and Syidah Matteen v. State of North Carolina that religious texts other than the King James Bible must be permitted for swearing oaths before a court.

Quote:
The court declares, however, that based upon the common law of North Carolina and the well-established precedent of the North Carolina Supreme Court, oaths are to be administered in a form, and upon such sacred texts, including texts other than the Holy Bible, that witnesses or jurors hold to be "most sacred and obligatory upon their conscience."


The ruling by the Superior Court follows a convoluted path, but serves the purposes for the Plaintiffs' suit.

Interesting to note, however, the court ordered each party to bear its own costs and attorneys' fees. So this is a case where relief sought by the Plaintiff, against an illegal state practice, had to be financially born by the Plaintiff.




Fri May 25, 2007 12:46 pm
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Post Re: "So help me god"
It does not address people of no faith either. Or are we expected to swear on a Charles Darwin book? ::100

Later

Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well
preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out,
shouting..."Holy Crap...what a ride!"

Edited by: Frank 013 at: 5/25/07 2:10 pm



Fri May 25, 2007 1:01 pm
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Post Re: "So help me god"
Frank, Darwin works for me! ::80

Actually, if you read the decision, it appears the North Carolina General Assembly allows (Rule 603) the use of an affirmation in lieu of an oath, so as to accommodate those who do not follow a particular religion or have no religious beliefs at all. At least, that appears to be what the court says here.

They probably didn't address that in the conclusion because the point at issue was whether someone could use an alternative religious text, not none at all.

George

"Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them."

Godless in America by George A. Ricker




Fri May 25, 2007 1:41 pm
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Post Re: "So help me god"
Oops, I meant to preempt Frank's question by letting everyone know that non-believers were already permitted to "affirm" rather than swear on a Bible. During the 80s courts for the most part had adjusted their oaths to "I swear or affirm..." In our courtrooms there's a Bible that sits on the stand but no one usually touches it when they're sworn.

Oh no, George, I didn't mean for anyone to actually take the time to read that decision. I just cited it because I had quoted it. It was awful, wasn't it?




Fri May 25, 2007 2:17 pm
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Post Re: "So help me god"
...oaths are to be administered in a form, and upon such sacred texts, including texts other than the Holy Bible, that witnesses or jurors hold to be "most sacred and obligatory upon their conscience."

I'm fascinated with the idea of binding one's word to something most sacred and obligatory upon one's conscience.

The assumption is that a person will not lie if they link their word to x, and x refers to something terribly important...a kind of non-negotiable, unconditional demand...and to minimize, avoid or deny this obligation would mean- well, that's the question: what would happen if the swearant were to profane this sacred obligation?

I understand in the Courtroom it means perjury to lie under oath, and that has its attending penalties. But why include the oath at all? Why not simply expect, demand: when testifying in Court, tell the truth. Why include any element of sacred obligation or holy writ? How can any Court determine the depth of commitment or actual fidelity of any person to any document?




Fri May 25, 2007 3:15 pm
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Post Re: "So help me god"
D.H.: I'm fascinated with the idea of binding one's word to something most sacred and obligatory upon one's conscience.

Hey D.H. I'm right with you. I can't see the significance of swearing an oath on any kind of sacred text, or to any kind of god. I've heard non-believers say that we should swear oaths on the Constitution, but that's just transferring religious rituals to a secular document. The oath swearing in a courtroom is certainly grounded in religious beliefs.

The North Carolina decision does note some interesting history with regard to the oath. According to the author, J. Ridgeway, in early English common law "infidels" could not be sworn as they were "perpetui inimici [perpetual enemy]; for, between them, as with the devils, whose subjects they be, and the Christian, there is perpetual hostility" (7). Ridgeway also notes that prior to the 18th century, when perjury statutes were first enacted, there was no criminal penalty for perjury. "Perjury, being viewed as the sin of false witness and contempt of God, was an ecclesiastical matter and punishment, as alluded to in the imprecation clause of oaths, was divine" (p. 11, n.29).

But why include the oath at all? Why not simply expect, demand: when testifying in Court, tell the truth. Why include any element of sacred obligation or holy writ? How can any Court determine the depth of commitment or actual fidelity of any person to any document?


I think it is certainly necessary to require a statement of some kind, both for the transcripts, and to ensure that the witness understands the expectations the court holds for truthful representation. Culturally, do most Americans know that when they sit on a witness stand they are expected to tell the truth? Probably. But culturally most Americans know that when they are arrested they have the right to remain silent and a right to an attorney, but their Miranda rights are still read to them.




Fri May 25, 2007 3:43 pm
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Post Re: "So help me god"
Someone once said "a scoundrel won't be bound by any oath and an honest man has no need of one" or words to that effect. I wish I could remember the source (maybe Ben Franklin ?).

I agree. A simple affirmation ought to be all that is ever required. That much is probably necessary. Any more seems superfluous.

George

"Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them."

Godless in America by George A. Ricker




Sat May 26, 2007 10:27 am
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Post Sooner or Later....
irishrose: The oath swearing in a courtroom is certainly grounded in religious beliefs.

Which is interesting within the context of a dominant Christian religion, considering Jesus taught against oath taking.
Quote:
Matthew 5:33-37 "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.


irishrose: I think it is certainly necessary to require a statement of some kind, both for the transcripts, and to ensure that the witness understands the expectations the court holds for truthful representation.

To tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth... .. .as best I can. Perhaps the element of oath taking involves making sure we get the best. I think this goes at least two directions. On the one hand it means divine assistance in finding the courage to speak truthfully...asking for godly power to bring forth the truth, which may very well be a difficult task: especially if it means life or death, or banishment or imprisonment. On the other hand it means reminding oneself that even if you get away with lying in this earthly court, god's heavenly estate will not be fooled...which means the threat of death, imprisonment or banishment are nothing compared to what god will do to you. Which reminds me of something from Johnny Cash's late rendition of that old negro spiritual, "God's Gonna Cut You Down" from America V: A Hundred Highways:
Quote:
You can run on for a long time,
Run on for a long time,
Run on for a long time,
Sooner, or later, God'll cut you down.
Sooner, or later, God'll cut you down.

Go and tell that long tongue liar,
Go and tell that midnight rider,
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter,
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down.



Edited by: Dissident Heart at: 5/26/07 11:42 am



Sat May 26, 2007 10:31 am
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Post Re: "So help me god"
Garicker: Someone once said "a scoundrel won't be bound by any oath and an honest man has no need of one" or words to that effect.

I've heard that before but also can't remember for certain. It sounds very Franklinish, particularly the "scoundrel" aspect.

Or how about Aeschylus:

"It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath."




Tue May 29, 2007 3:58 pm
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Post Re: "So help me god"
Irishrosem: Or how about Aeschylus:

"It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath."


That works.

George

"Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them."

Godless in America by George A. Ricker




Tue May 29, 2007 5:26 pm
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Post Re: "So help me god"
For a devout Christian, an oath with ones hand on the Bible may make one more likely to tell the truth. Also, don't forget the importance of ceremony.

Still, from my perspective as a secular atheist, a religious oath doesn't belong in a public courtroom.




Fri Jun 01, 2007 12:33 am
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