Is Swearing on a Bible in Court a Violation of Church-State Separation?

In summary: In God We Trust" has a secular purpose. We believe that the government's contention is without merit.The government argues that "In God We Trust" has a secular purpose because...it is a patriotic motto. We believe that this is a weak argument. The government's interest in promoting patriotism does not justify the endorsement of religion.The government also argues that "In God We Trust" does not endorse religion because...the phrase appears on our currency and on public buildings, but it does not mention any specific religion. We believe that the inclusion of the phrase on public buildings does endorse religion. The government's contention that the phrase does not endorse any specific religion is also without merit.The government's last
  • #1
Cyrus
3,238
16
I was watching Law & Order and I realized a blatant violation of the separation of church and state.

(1) When you swear to tell the truth, you put your hand on a bible.

(2) When you talk to a preist, they are legally allowed to not repeat what you told them in confession, even if you admitted to a crime!

You have the right to remain silent if you are the one under prosecution, but if someone else is called to the stand they must tell the truth.
 
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  • #2
3, It says in god we trust on the money
 
  • #3
mgb_phys said:
3, It says in god we trust on the money

But 'In God we trust' is secular.
 
  • #4
Cyrus said:
(1) When you swear to tell the truth, you put your hand on a bible.
You don't have to. You can ask for a non-religious oath if you are atheist.

But, hey, if you want to be President, Congressman or Governor, you're going to have a hard time (at least from Republicans) if you don't take the oath of office on a Bible.

http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D8MEPKIG0&show_article=1
 
  • #5
Gokul43201 said:
You don't have to. You can ask for a non-religious oath if you are atheist.

But, hey, if you want to be President, Congressman or Governor, you're going to have a hard time (at least from Republicans) if you don't take the oath of office on a Bible.

http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D8MEPKIG0&show_article=1

Oh, I'm sure when your on trial for murder and you take the stand and say I don't believe in god, the jury is going to LOVE that.
 
  • #6
Gokul43201 said:
But, hey, if you want to be President, Congressman or Governor, you're going to have a hard time (at least from Republicans) if you don't take the oath of office on a Bible.

I thought christians weren't allowed to swear on the bible?

Mat 5:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:
Mat 5:35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.
Mat 5:36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
Mat 5:37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
 
  • #7
mgb_phys said:
I thought christians weren't allowed to swear on the bible?

Mat 5:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:
Mat 5:35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.
Mat 5:36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
Mat 5:37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

I don't know. But I'd like to know if a preist really is allow to keep quiet if he has information on someone that confessed to comitting a crime. Or can he be prosecuted for not talking under oath? If he can keep quiet, this is a serious problem.
 
  • #8
A priest testifying about your confession to him is hearsay.
 
  • #9
Cyrus said:
Oh, I'm sure when your on trial for murder and you take the stand and say I don't believe in god, the jury is going to LOVE that.
I think you can arrange that in chanbers or whatever - I think I learned that from Law & Order too. But hey, if you want to be tried by a jury of your peers, you better make sure your lawyer gets that straight during jury selection. In any case, the state does provide for a separation, but there's only so much separation you can hope to get in a deeply religious country/state/county.
 
  • #10
[PLAIN said:
http://www.ffrf.org/timely/igwt/tiernan.php]The[/PLAIN] complaint in this case alleges that "In God We Trust" as our national motto and on U.S. coins and currency violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as an establishment of religion.

It alleges that "In God We Trust" has no secular purpose, that its effect is to endorse religion, and that it unreasonably entangles government with religion.

The defendants, U.S. government, et al, filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.

The trial court correctly held that, in ruling on the motion, it must assume all the allegations in the complaint to be true.

It then ignored its own ruling.

The trial court held that "In God We Trust" has a secular purpose, that its effect is not to endorse religion, and that it is not a prohibited entanglement. It refused to let us introduce evidence on any of these crucial issues.

I still don't understand how it's secular... could someone please explain?

Here's the argument against it being secular from that site:

It is our position that "In God We Trust" has no secular purpose. The government argues that it does; that the objective is to have a national motto and that this objective makes it secular. This is fallacious. The motive is to have a national motto; the purpose is to have a law mandating "In God We Trust" on coins. The first is secular; the second is religious.
 
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  • #11
NeoDevin said:
A priest testifying about your confession to him is hearsay.

Is it also hearsay if it were a friend he had told also?
 
  • #12
Cyrus said:
(1) When you swear to tell the truth, you put your hand on a bible.
That isn't required, so there is no violation.
(2) When you talk to a preist, they are legally allowed to not repeat what you told them in confession, even if you admitted to a crime!
Could you explain why you see that as a violation? The same priveledge exists for doctors, lawyers, shrinks, and even reporters.
You have the right to remain silent if you are the one under prosecution, but if someone else is called to the stand they must tell the truth.
Is that your reasoning? No one is saying a priest needs to lie. They just don't talk.
 
  • #13
Pythagorean said:
I still don't understand how it's secular... could someone please explain?

Here's the argument against it being secular from that site:

It's secular because it simply says 'In God We Trust".

Not, "In Jesus we Trust"

Not, "In Abraham we Trust"

Not, "In Muhammad we Trust"

Not, "In Visnu we Trust"
 
  • #14
russ_watters said:
That isn't required, so there is no violation.

It doesn't matter if its required, no one should be put in a position to have to refuse. If I'm in the southern bible belt being convicted of a crime judged by my good christian peers and I take the stand and say 'oh, no thanks' to the bible, I'm screwed.

Could you explain why you see that as a violation? The same priveledge exists for doctors, lawyers, shrinks, and even reporters.

I think I remember a reporter that went to jail because they were told to reveal their source and decided to stay quiet. It was probably about a year ago. I can't remember exactly what it was though.

In any event, why do they get special passes either?


Is that your reasoning? No one is saying a priest needs to lie. They just don't talk.

If you are called to court and you are asked a question and you refuse to answer, isn't the judge supposed to throw you in jail? You sware to tell the truth, not to tell what you feel like saying.
 
  • #15
Could you explain further please? It sounds like you think that secular means not referring to a specific religion. Secular means not religious or spiritual. How is a reference to god not religious or spiritual?
 
  • #16
russ_watters said:
Could you explain further please? It sounds like you think that secular means not referring to a specific religion. Secular means not religious or spiritual. How is a reference to god not religious or spiritual?

I guess it depends on how tight you want to make the definition. I thought secular means no particular religion.

In other words, the framers allowed for the mention of God, but not any specific God/Gods/Spaghetti Monsters.

I.e. God: Yes.
Religion: No.
 
  • #17
Cyrus said:
It doesn't matter if its required, no one should be put in a position to have to refuse.
Since a high fraction of people would do it, it makes sense to prepare as if people will do it. A person who knows they will be called to testify should tell their lawyer beforehand, rather than refusing on the spot. It works the same for people doing oaths of office. I see no violation.
If I'm in the southern bible belt being convicted of a crime judged by my good christian peers and I take the stand and say 'oh, no thanks' to the bible, I'm screwed.
How is that different than being convicted due to racism? That's not the govenrment discriminating on you, that's the members of the jury. It has nothing to do with separation of church and state.
I think I remember a reporter that went to jail because they were told to reveal their source and decided to stay quiet. It was probably about a year ago. I can't remember exactly what it was though.
To a priest? That would surprise me.
In any event, why do they get special passes either?
What do you mean? What "special pass"? Do you understand why anyone has confidentiality?
If you are called to court and you are asked a question and you refuse to answer, isn't the judge supposed to throw you in jail? You sware to tell the truth, not to tell what you feel like saying.
No. Haven't you heard of the 5th Amendment? And obviously, confidentiality exists and is incorporated into the legal system. There are special rules that apply to different situations. Ie, if the situation is not covered by confidentiality and you are not capable of incriminating yourself, the court can compel you to testify.
 
  • #18
This I didn't know:
I have been in law enforcement professionally for more than 20 years
and though in every case I have seen people routinely required to
raise their right hand, I have never seen a Bible actually used in
court ? not even once. This may still be a practice in some
jurisdictions (or on television and the movies) but where I am from it
is considered an archaic and politically incorrect practice. If a
person chooses to affirm rather than swear, there is normally no
hesitation on the part of the court to honor that personal choice.
http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=503591
So there's that answer.
 
  • #19
Cyrus said:
I guess it depends on how tight you want to make the definition. I thought secular means no particular religion.

In other words, the framers allowed for the mention of God, but not any specific God/Gods/Spaghetti Monsters.

I.e. God: Yes.
Religion: No.
Dunno, sounds to me like you're manufacturing your own definition. How are we supposed to have a discussion if people just make up words on the spot?

More to the point, the people who designed "separation of church and state" used the dictionary definition. And even more to the point, "In God we trust" is a recent addition that is intended to promote a christian god. It is most certainly a violation of separation of church and state. http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/cs/blcsm_gov_motto.htm
 
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  • #20
russ_watters said:
Since a high fraction of people would do it, it makes sense to prepare as if people will do it. A person who knows they will be called to testify should tell their lawyer beforehand, rather than refusing on the spot.

It does not matter. The jury is going to notice. They will go hmmmmmmm, he never swore to tell the truth on a bible. Isnt that peculiar... it should not be allowed, period. So no one knows one way or another if they were or were not going to sware on a bible.


It works the same for people doing oaths of office. I see no violation.

In that case, you don't sware on a bible. You sware on a copy of the constitution.

How is that different than being convicted due to racism? That's not the govenrment discriminating on you, that's the members of the jury. It has nothing to do with separation of church and state.

Because the government put you into that position by its practice of having people sware on a bible.

Do you understand why anyone has confidentiality? No. Haven't you heard of the 5th Amendment?

Confidentiality is something between a group of people. It should have no bearing in a court of law though.

As far as I am aware, the 5th amendment has to do with incriminating yourself. If you are a witness to a crime comitted by someone else, you can't sit there and cry the 5th, can you?
 
  • #21
russ_watters said:
Dunno, sounds to me like you're manufacturing your own definition. How are we supposed to have a discussion if people just make up words on the spot?

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/secular

The majority of the definitions I see say no specific mention to religion.
 
  • #22
  • #23
Cyrus said:
I guess it depends on how tight you want to make the definition. I thought secular means no particular religion.

In other words, the framers allowed for the mention of God, but not any specific God/Gods/Spaghetti Monsters.

I.e. God: Yes.
Religion: No.

Well, I suppose you could claim that God is a secular word in the deist sense, but It's kind of a reach considering how many theists vs. deists there are in the US. Most people are going to interpret the theological meaning of it.
 
  • #24
Cyrus said:
I guess it depends on how tight you want to make the definition. I thought secular means no particular religion.
I would disagree. Perhaps you're thinking of nondenominational.

In other words, the framers allowed for the mention of God, but not any specific God/Gods/Spaghetti Monsters.
The "framers" had nothing to do with putting "in god we trust" on currency. That was done during the McCarthy era (1950s). The framers went out of their way to minimize mention of god--in fact I don't think the word appears in the constitution at all. (An incredible achievement!)

I.e. God: Yes.
Religion: No.
A step in the right direction, but not quite secular.
 
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  • #25
Up here, we can simply swear an oath. That's what I did when I registered to become a locksmith. If I were to break into something that I shouldn't, I'd get nailed for 7 years for break-and-enter, plus 14 years for swearing a false oath, consecutive, no chance of parole. If I'm called to court as a witness, I will not go close to a bible.
I have noticed now that I'm watching Perry Mason every day since my unemployment, that even in the days of black-and-white TV, they just raised their hands and swore to tell the truth etc. with no bible or 'so help you god' at the end.
 
  • #26
If you are sufficiently religious you would refuse to swear even without the bible - because of Mathew 5:36-38.
This was used to keep Quakers out of parliament for years since they refused to swear an oath.
 
  • #27
The confidentiality of confession is similar to the lawyer-client confidentiality. A good example of that is this guy Alton Brown who remained in prison for 26 years for a crime that two jello-spined lawyers knew he was innocent of. The real killer had confessed to the lawyers when he was their client and they waited until the real killer died in jail before revealing Alton Brown's innocence to avoid violating the lawyer-client confidentiality.

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=3915614n%3fsource=search_video"

The lawyers are correct that the legal system cannot work if lawyers divulge that sort of thing. The answer is that they should have chosen to stop being lawyers. But their careers were important enough to leave an innocent guy rotting in jail.

I think that priests ought to be granted the same protection of confidentiality but that doesn't mean that the moral thing to do is always to keep your lips sealed.
 
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  • #28
I would expect that lawyer-client confidentiality is protected against expiry by retirement.
 
  • #29
Any clergy-supplicant communication should not be privileged in a truly secular regime. That is purely religiously based. Lawyer or doctor privilege does have the constraints that any prior or impending harm done by a client must be reported. (In Canada, at least. One of my ex-girlfriends was a lawyer. She said that the one thing that she always ordered a client was to not tell her whether or not he was guilty. If she knew that he was, she would be committing perjury if she entered a not-guilty plea or otherwise alluded that he might be innocent.)
 
  • #30
What about (straight or gay) marriage...

Politicians talking about religion publicly...

Religious special interest groups..

Oh.. yeah. What about voting at churches?

Republicans... Utah.
 
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  • #31
CaptainQuasar said:
The confidentiality of confession is similar to the lawyer-client confidentiality. A good example of that is this guy Alton Brown who remained in prison for 26 years for a crime that two jello-spined lawyers knew he was innocent of. The real killer had confessed to the lawyers when he was their client and they waited until the real killer died in jail before revealing Alton Brown's innocence to avoid violating the lawyer-client confidentiality.

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=3915614n%3fsource=search_video"

The lawyers are correct that the legal system cannot work if lawyers divulge that sort of thing. The answer is that they should have chosen to stop being lawyers. But their careers were important enough to leave an innocent guy rotting in jail.

I think that priests ought to be granted the same protection of confidentiality but that doesn't mean that the moral thing to do is always to keep your lips sealed.


There is something seriously wrong with the system if a person can get away with telling their lawyer they are guilty and have that lawyer enter in a plea of not guilty.
 
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  • #32
nuby said:
What about (straight or gay) marriage?

This has nothing to do with the topic of this thread. (It does, but I'm not talking about marraige).

I'm talking about what I saw on Law and Order. DUN-DUNNNN
 
  • #33
Back to the OP. You have to remember that 200 years ago, belief in in the Christian God was the PC thing in the US and was also a widespread accepted belief.

Here is George Washington's Thanksgiving day proclamation.

As President, on October 3, 1789, George Washington made the following proclamation and created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of America:

“ Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.[7]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanks...tions_in_the_first_thirty_years_of_nationhood
 
  • #34
Cyrus said:
But 'In God we trust' is secular.

It's not. The 'In God We Trust' being added to money and the Pledge being altered to have God in it were all blatant violations of the separation of church and state all due to the Red Scare. Fear should not be an excuse for violating this separation.
 
  • #35
Evo said:
Back to the OP. You have to remember that 200 years ago, belief in in the Christian God was the PC thing in the US and was also a widespread accepted belief.

Here is George Washington's Thanksgiving day proclamation.



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanks...tions_in_the_first_thirty_years_of_nationhood

Nowhere in that speech is he directly talking about the Christian god. The founding fathers were deists, and that's what they meant when they referred to the 'Almighty One' or 'God.'
 

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