(24057) Wed 1 Feb 95 5:14p By: Robin Murray-o'hair To: All Re: Objecting to Oaths St: @MSG

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(24057) Wed 1 Feb 95 5:14p By: Robin Murray-o'hair To: All Re: Objecting to Oaths St: ------------------------------------------------------------ @MSGID: 1:382/1006.0 87A905A5 @TID: WILDMAIL!/WC v4.11 94-0279 The following article is reproduced from the "Editor's Desk" column of the January 1988 issue of the _American Atheist_ magazine. MAGIC WORDS by R. Murray-O'Hair On December 15, 1986, a Travis County judge announced to me that he _would_ swear me in as a juror. He and I had already had three "discussions" concerning my unwillingness to swear or affirm "So Help Me God." He had learned that I was an Atheist, and he had already announced that he "resented" my determination not to swear or affirm anything. But now, in our fourth encounter, in front of a bewildered court reporter, he announced that he was going to administer the oath to me. I immediately thought, "How? Are you going to put a burning coal to my tongue to make me cough up the magic words?" A lingering respect for the American legal system made me hold back my thoughts, however. I was curious as to how a judge could force me, in this modern age, to make particular words cross my lips. Apparently, the methods are the same as that used during the Inquisition: force and fear. The twentieth century has just gentrified the process. The rats have been removed from the cells, but the cells have not been removed from the punishment for dissent. I have, since that day, often reconsidered the question of oaths and affirmations -- their necessity and origin. I have often had to explain to the curious why anyone would object to the words "I swear" or "I affirm." After all, in an age of prevarications and "clarifications," what matters the meaning of particular words? Why object to "swear" and "affirm" but not "promise" or "pledge"? The more I have thought about the issue, the more I have became convinced that this is not a problem of wording, but a problem of meaning. As explained in the July 1987 issue of the _American Atheist,_ the oath originated as a plea for a "higher power" to punish the oath-taker if he (for women generally could not take oaths) broke his pledge. It was a self-imprecation. That is the way adults in our society describe this procedure. Children, honest creatures that they are, have a more straightforward way of expressing their oaths: "Cross my heart, and hope to die." In our society, rather than abandon childish habits, we justify, explain, and whitewash them. Thus the part of the cannibalistic ritual of the Mass known as transubstantiation, rather than being called grotesque, is called symbolic. Thus in the last one hundred years, realizing that an oath makes as much sense as chanting "Step on a crack; break your mother's back," we now claim that the oath submits the oath-taker to the laws of perjury. I fell for that line myself. I thought, "Golly gee, people lie all the time, but we don't go around arresting them unless they have promised not to fib. That's the point of asking witnesses, jurors, and such to promise not to lie." I agreed that some sort of attestation or pledge is necessary to the legal system. But that's nonsense. I know of no other law than that of perjury that requires that one "submit" oneself to it. At the age of eighteen, when I reached my majority, I didn't have to promise not to rape, murder, steal, or commit treason. Yet if I performed any one of those acts, I would be liable for punishment. My defense could not be that I didn't "swear" or "promise" that I would not commit that crime. Why then does the crime of perjury only apply if one "swears" not to perjure oneself? Could it be that the oath-taker is not calling upon the law but taunting a god? The laws governing perjury, like those governing any other criminal act, should be able to stand with only the aid of a legal system, without the aid of a theological system. If they can, witnesses and jurors need only be advised of the punishment for the offense of lying. They need not call upon any private asset -- J.C., Allah, or their integrity. The only reason to have individuals take oaths is to have them call upon a diety. The secular solution is easy, simple, and draws no distinction between brands of religion, as does the oath. The courts need only announce: "You will be held accountable for the truth of all you say in this court." There simply is no need for a list of available statements for use in courts, all of which pinpoint the religious ideas of the speaker. As Atheists, we should not seek "secular" religious ceremonies. Godless invocations, priestless christenings, and spookless oaths should not be our goal. Superstitions should not be continued in any form just because they are traditional. I know that some Atheists will gladly affirm as long as they are not required to affirm with the help of a god. But I think that it is time for us to purge ourselves of religious ideas and practices -- they can be habit-forming. ************************************************************ Provided by: AMERICAN ATHEIST ONLINE SERVICES, P O Box 140195, Austin, TX 78714-0195. Voice: (512) 458-1244. FAX: (512) 467-9525. BBS: (512) 302-0223. Text reprinted courtesy of the American Atheists Press. Copyright 1988. All rights reserved. Permission to reproduce electronically granted provided source is given and contents are not changed. * WCE 2.0/2394 * Dial-THE-Atheist (512) 458-5731 --- WILDMAIL!/WC v4.11 * Origin: American Atheists Online (512) 302-0223 (1:382/1006.0)


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