using the Bible to swear an oath in court--wtf?

Jaime - posted on 09/23/2009 ( 18 moms have responded )

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I went to the courthouse today to drop off an affidavit of service for my custody hearing in October and because I served my Son's father with the papers, I had to fill out the affidavit and swear and affirm my signature. I presented the court clerk with my identification and she then grabbed a Bible off of one of the desks in the office and said (I'm paraphrasing a bit) "if you can just place your right hand on the bible..." and to that I responded "really?". It ended up that I did not have to place my hand on the bible and swear my signature and that part of the affidavit was scratched off leaving the 'affirmation' of my signature. I guess I'm a bit confused. First off if the Church and State are separate, then why is an oath sworn on the Bible? And second, why, why, why? My oath would not be anymore true or false if I swore and affirmed my signature on the latest issue of 'In Touch' magazine, so I find this practice completely unnecessary and extremely contradictory to all of the leaps and bounds that the judicial system has gone to separate law and religion.

Maybe I'm missing something...any thoughts or opinions?
I should note that I live in Canada and I'm aware that different countries will have their own laws and rules with regard to religion and law...but I just can't wrap my head around it.

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Jocelyn - posted on 09/28/2009

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Quoting Vicki:

I'm from Canada, and just over a year ago I took a roommate to small claims court.
When submitting the case, there were two options. To swear OR affirm that everything stated is true. I chose affirm because I had a feeling I didn't want to "swear" it, and at the docket it was explained that yes, to swear truthfulness means to place your hand on the bible, whereas to affirm means you don't believe such crockery, but still you are truthful.

I believe there would be a huge uproar from the christian community if the option to swear on the bible were to be removed from the courts.



I just went thru this a couple months ago in Alberta; They gave me a whole list of religious books to choose from, or I was told I could just affirm.  I swore on the bible a few times (doesn't mean anything to me, but it was convinient--I had a newer clerk and the bible one was the only speach/process she had comited to memory at the time lol) and I affirmed a few times as well. I wasn't offened at any point, to me it's just one of those old backward religious traditions that really has no meaning (to the general public) anymore :S

Jaime - posted on 09/27/2009

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Quoting Jean:

Here in NZ, we still use the Bible to swear on legal documents. I was just talking to my partner about this and he said that if you don't want to swear on a Bible then there is another option.

I wonder how other people who follow other religions feel about swearing on a bible? I did hear some where that Christianity is not the most followed religion.


I guess that was part of my point too, that Christianity is not the only religion in the world, and certainly not the most practised religion either...especially considering that in North America we are vastly multi-cultural.  So how does our legal system account for Christianity but not other religions?  And I realize that it is tradition in North America to use the Bible, but times are changing and I think that it's okay for traditions to change too.

[deleted account]

Here in NZ, we still use the Bible to swear on legal documents. I was just talking to my partner about this and he said that if you don't want to swear on a Bible then there is another option.



I wonder how other people who follow other religions feel about swearing on a bible? I did hear some where that Christianity is not the most followed religion.

Vicki - posted on 09/25/2009

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I'm from Canada, and just over a year ago I took a roommate to small claims court.

When submitting the case, there were two options. To swear OR affirm that everything stated is true. I chose affirm because I had a feeling I didn't want to "swear" it, and at the docket it was explained that yes, to swear truthfulness means to place your hand on the bible, whereas to affirm means you don't believe such crockery, but still you are truthful.



I believe there would be a huge uproar from the christian community if the option to swear on the bible were to be removed from the courts.

Jaime - posted on 09/24/2009

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Thanks Carol for that information. I guess I jumped the gun a bit and this conversation started off with me being completely side-swiped at the idea of using the Bible to swear an oath of truth. I did opt for an affirmation of my signature and will do so from now on. Like I said earlier, I am over my original shock and I guess it just threw me for a loop.

Johnny - posted on 09/24/2009

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In Canada, every person has the choice between swearing on the bible and being "affirmed". The federal government offers the choice to new workers, it's not as if they offer you the bible and you have to ask for something else. I attended the swearing in ceremony for our provincial legislature once, and I would say that 90% of the officials chose to be "affirmed" rather than swearing on the bible. On the two times I've been in a criminal court (to observe, lol) I did not see one witness swear on the bible.

Christa - posted on 09/24/2009

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Oh ok, I was just curious I know here in the US they swear in the president and supreme court officials among others on the bible, but I'm not sure about at the local levels.

Jaime - posted on 09/24/2009

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Quoting Christa:

Jaime I'm just curious, this happened in Canada? Do they swear on the bible when swearing in public officials there?


Yes, this is in Canada and I honestly have no idea if they use the Bible to swear in public officials...now that you mention it they probably do but I just never thought they would use the Bible.

Christa - posted on 09/24/2009

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Jaime I'm just curious, this happened in Canada? Do they swear on the bible when swearing in public officials there?

Dawn - posted on 09/24/2009

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I'm surprised that they are still even offering the Bible to swear on anymore. Back in the early 90's I did Jury duty in California, no one was even offered to swear on the Bible.

Jaime - posted on 09/24/2009

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I'm not offended that the Bible was presented to me and I didn't cause a scene in the court house either. I am simply curious about the use of the Bible in law proceedings when it is continuously argued ad nauseum that Church and State are separate. I still believe that it is contradictory, but like you said Mary there are many 'traditions' that contradict our laws and views today. I was just a bit thrown off that I had to swear on the Bible, having only seen this in movies and knowing the little interest I had in this book to begin with. I see no reason to abolish the use of the Bible in court, but I just wonder if we sometimes hold on to traditional symbols too tightly to realize the expansive mixture of religion among North American's in 2009? Personally I don't view Christmas or Easter as religious holidays even though that is the tradition...and I don't think that it is wrong to move away from historical tradition and create new tradition given all of the strides we have taken in hundreds of years for equality, diversity and unity among nations (despite the wars that still rage in the middle east). I always laugh at the comedians during the holidays that emphasize the political correctness of North America: it's not I'm dreaming of a White Christmas, it's I'm dreaming of a Caucasian Holiday. I see your point Mary and I am over my original shock of yesterday but I thought it would make for an interesting debate topic anyway.

Mary - posted on 09/24/2009

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I think I'm not expressing myself well on this...

I guess I just feel that, for the most part, the US is a place of religious tolerance. Personal discriminations based on faith aside, it is not a country where it is illegal to follow any particular faith, or have no faith at all. I doubt that your court clerk in Canada was even thinking that religion was a relevant issue when she asked you to swear on a bible...it's just the way things have been done for hundreds of years. It was not meant to be offensive, or imply you valued the writings within that book...it was just a symbolic gesture that affirmed your willingness to be truthful.



I guess my position is that it is a tradition that should be allowed to continued in the spirit of respect for our past. For those individuals who find it abhorrent or offensive, it can be politely declined without issue or explanation. I don't think that all of a countries traditions or practices that have a foundation in religious beliefs have to be abolished to maintain a strict adherence to separation of church and state. For instance...I would be sad to see the White House Xmas tree or Easter Egg roll done away with. Both are traditions based on holidays that are soley Christian. But, in the interest of separating Church and State, it could be argued that there should not be a presidential involvement with something that celebrates a religious event, even if it focuses on the commercial aspects of these holidays. For that matter, they should not be state/federal holidays...gov't employees should have to use vacation time to celebrate on their own time, and schools should remain open as well.

Lindsay - posted on 09/24/2009

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I agree that it's out of tradition more than anything. Sadly, as time goes by there are less and less traditions continued because someone finds an issue with it.

Jaime - posted on 09/24/2009

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I think sometimes the meaning and importance of something can get lost behind the veil of 'tradition'. It's great that the Founding Fathers were Christian, but using the bible as a symbol of respect for truth and justice only takes into consideration those people that identify with being Christian. In today's society we are vastly multi-cultural, which means that there are thousands of citizens that do not subscribe to the faiths associated with the Bible. And this is part of my problem. Our countries (Canada, US) are so wrapped up in tradition sometimes that the importance of something can often be overshadowed. I heard a story once about a woman that cut the ends off of her roast before putting it in the pan and she claimed it was a family tradition and that her Mother had done it and her Grandmother had done it. And when it finally got back to asking the Grandmother where the tradition came from, it turns out that it wasn't tradition at all--the pan that the Grandmother used was small, so she cut the ends off the roast to make it fit! I guess my point with this story is that some 'traditions' are not actually traditions and so perhaps using the Bible to swear and oath in court might only be an idealized (dare I say elitist) notion (based on the beliefs of the Christians that Founded North America) of allegiance and respect for the truth and justice. I don't personally view the Bible as a symbol for anything other than religion. I don't think that it's about political correctness in this case because the fact is that the Church and State are separate...so even just based on that knowledge, using the Bible as a symbol in a court of law is highly contradictory.

Mary - posted on 09/24/2009

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I have to say that I agree with Evelyn...at the time of our Founding Fathers, all of people establishing this country were Christian. Funnily enough, the majority of them were seeking a home that was free of reliegious persecution. I'm from the Baltimore area, which was historically known as the seat of Catholicism, because of it's tolerance of different religions.



At this point, I think that swearing an oath on a bible is more of a symbolic thing for most, not an affirmation of your beliefs in the contents or in Christianity. I have to admit that I find it a bit sad that the world of politcal correctness is forcing us to do away with some of our historical traditions. I'm a bit of a lapsed Catholic, and have never been overly religious, but since my religious roots are in Christianity, I have no problems with swearing on a bible. It's not particularly meaningful to me in a religious sense...it's more that I find it continuing in the tradition of the founders of the country I call home. I guess I see it as a synbolic gesture that affirms my respect for the principles of truth and justice that were held so dear by those who started this tradition.

Amie - posted on 09/23/2009

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From what I've found out Bible swearing dates back to old England, where only Christians could testify in court. A rule enforced by making witnesses swear before God and kiss the Bible. Nice eh?

Today it's not completely customary to do so. There are other options a person may choose if they do not wish the swear on the bible. An affirmation (as you did) is what normally takes the place of the swearing on the bible.

[deleted account]

We do the same in America-and there've actually been some semi-recent cases in which it has been an issue. Several years ago there was a case in which a person who was testifying was Muslim and didn't want to swear on the Bible-because to him it wouldn't mean anything to swear on the Bible. I can't remember what was finally decided, but I'm with him-if we're going to have to swear on something, then damnit I want it to be something that means something to the swearer, not to the people swearing him/her in. And the fact that it has to be the Bible is very contradictory. I'm kind of interested in how/when that came about now. I need to do some Googling. =)

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