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
  • #36
LightbulbSun said:
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.'
Washington himself was certainly not Christian, and from what I've read, I would question if he held any belief in a deity at all, but do you doubt that addressing a public that was very Christian that his proclamation was not taken by that public to mean the Christian God? And do you think that he did not mean for them to read that into his proclamation? What would you think of a politician today making such a statement?
 
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  • #37
Gokul43201 said:
I would expect that lawyer-client confidentiality is protected against expiry by retirement.

Oh, it is. What I'm saying is that they should have taken action to set the innocent guy free even if it cost them their careers and got them disbarred or otherwise disgraced them and even if it exposed them to some civil liability, for that matter. "The system has to work that way" is a wonderful justification for setting up the system to work a certain way but as a determinant for their individual actions it's a cop-out and excuse.
 
  • #38
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.

Secular to me means a thing not relating to religion, not just to a generic form of religion.

But it bears mentioning that separation of church and state is not in the Constitution, but a chestnut from Jefferson's writings. The First Amendment requires very little separation between church and state:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof[...]
 
  • #39
Danger said:
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.)

I don't think that a truly secular regime would have to pretend that human spirituality doesn't exist. Eradication of religion from the public sphere isn't required of a secular government, in my opinion as an atheist, nor is it the meaning of the principle of separation of church and state in the U.S. IMO.

If it was extended to officials of all religions who serve in the same capacity - as a confidante ministering to the spiritual needs of others, with specific duties and obligations to those served, it does seem to me a parallel of the relationships between lawyer and client or doctor and patient.
 
  • #40
Cyrus said:
In that case, you don't sware on a bible [Presidential inauguration]. You sware on a copy of the constitution.
Heh, no:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/01/photogalleries/presidents/photo7.html
Confidentiality is something between a group of people. It should have no bearing in a court of law though.
I disagree and so does western legal theory. In order for confidentiality to mean something, it has to be essentially unlimited in situations where it is needed. Can't you see why it would be important? One example: Clients need to be able to talk to their lawyers off the record. If there were no confidentiality, our legal system would collapse.

Can you give a logical reason for your opinion? Or is it just what it is?
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?
That's what I said. They are two separate examples of not needing to testify in court. One is confidentiality (someone testifying against you) and the other is the 5th amendment (you testifying against yourself).
 
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  • #41
Cyrus said:
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/secular

The majority of the definitions I see say no specific mention to religion.
Are you sure you read them? I see eight definitions, the first four of which all use some form of the word "religion", and all say basically the same thing (secular = nonreligious). Five and six are having to do with timeframes (a usage for the word I didn't know) and are irrelevant here. 7 and 8 are the noun form of definitions 1-4.

So out of 8 definitions, 6 are exactly what I (and others) described: secular = nonreligious, and the other two are an entirely unrelated subject - essentially a completely separate word. This word ranks about a 0.5 on the ambiguity scale.
 
  • #42
Danger said:
Any clergy-supplicant communication should not be privileged in a truly secular regime. That is purely religiously based.
Should a discussion with a psychologist be priveledged? What's the difference?
 
  • #43
russ_watters said:
Heh, no:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/01/photogalleries/presidents/photo7.html

I don't think you understood what I wrote. I didn't say they sware on a copy of the constitution, I said in that case they should sware on a copy of the constitution.

I disagree and so does western legal theory. In order for confidentiality to mean something, it has to be essentially unlimited in situations where it is needed. Can't you see why it would be important? One example: Clients need to be able to talk to their lawyers off the record. If there were no confidentiality, our legal system would collapse.

I'm debating what they need to say 'off the record'. I still don't see convincing argument so far. If it were something off the record, it would probably be because they did something illegal to begin with.

Now, there are confidentiality agreements for things like business. In which case you agree not to speak about something and if you do you are subject to legal action. But that's not what were talking about here.

That's what I said. They are two separate examples of not needing to testify in court. One is confidentiality (someone testifying against you) and the other is the 5th amendment (you testifying against yourself).

I'm talking about a Preist having to keep quiet and you bring up the 5th amendment. Why, I have no idea. I'm not talking about self incrimination. Why did you bring this up? Why is this relevant?
 
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  • #44
russ_watters said:
Are you sure you read them? I see eight definitions, the first four of which all use some form of the word "religion", and all say basically the same thing (secular = nonreligious). Five and six are having to do with timeframes (a usage for the word I didn't know) and are irrelevant here. 7 and 8 are the noun form of definitions 1-4.

So out of 8 definitions, 6 are exactly what I (and others) described: secular = nonreligious, and the other two are an entirely unrelated subject - essentially a completely separate word. This word ranks about a 0.5 on the ambiguity scale.

I'm reading them, but your not reading what I'm writting. I said they said "no specific mention of religion".

NOT, that the definition of secular itself doesn't make specific mention of religion.

What I wrote was probably a bit unclear. If you read it fast I could see you misreading it - it was worded funny.


To state it again more clearly: "The definition says secular makes no specific mention of religion; however, that does not exclude a more general use of the word 'GOD' not associated with any PARTICULAR religion'.

Go back and reread my post on 'In God We Trust' and you will see I've already stated what you posted.
 
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  • #45
Cyrus said:
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.

...

Because the government put you into that position by its practice of having people sware on a bible.
So you would infringe upon the right of others to swear upon a bible if they wish? And what of the language they use in their testamony? That's more important than whether or not you place your hand on a bible or say "So help me God". In an area where people are given to saying things such as "I prayed" "God help me" "Thank the Lord" ect it will stand out quite readily that you are not very religious if at all. So would you prevent people from saying such things in testamony? Would you say that a person should be held in contempt simply because he or she habitually uses such phrasology? Wouldn't it be trampling upon their freedom of religion even to not allow them to "swear" as they choose?
Also a Jury trial is a choice. You can choose to forego the jury if you don't believe your "peers" will be especially sympathetic towards you. Of course you still have to worry about the judge but they are theoretically supposed to be purely impartial and above such petty inclinations.
Either way, any lawyer in that situation is likely to tell you that you had better find God quick even if you lose him again as soon as the trial is over.


Cyrus said:
Confidentiality is something between a group of people. It should have no bearing in a court of law though.
My understanding is that confidentiality does not cover knowledge specific to the crime being investigated, only other knowledge that could assist in obtaining a conviction. Say perhaps you are accused of murdering your wife and you told your psychologist that you had been cheating on her. Your infidelity could be used against you speculating that it was part of your motive to kill your wife or that you obviously did not love your wife ect. Obviously though it has nothing to do with the murder directly and so your psychologist can not be called to testify on that matter. How it works with priests in particular I am not sure.

Cyrus said:
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?
Did you watch that video posted in GD about why you should never talk to the police? The supreme court ruled that the subject's supposed innocence does not relieve them of their right to the fifth amendment.
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4097602514885833865
-Ohio v. Reiner, 532 U.S. 17, 20 (2001)
-"One of the Fifth Amendment's basic functions is to protect innocent men who otherwise might be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances. Truthful responses of an innocent witness, as well as those of a wrongdoer, may provide the government with incriminating evidence from the speakers own mouth."
at approximately 15 minutes and 55 seconds. The whole thing is fairly interesting.
 
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  • #46
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]
Wanna move this over to the thread where you all were arguing against my opinion that Thanksgiving promoted Christianity? :confused:

Stats, I would never deny someone the right to swear upon whatever he/she wants to. If I were to swear on a bible, I would be committing perjury by that very act. I would be remiss if I didn't point that out to the court. It would be like making a diehard Christian swear upon a Harry Potter book.
 
  • #47
Not reading the whole post, the bible actually says not to swear on anything! It's not a biblical practice. So, it's all a farce anyway.
 
  • #48
Danger said:
Stats, I would never deny someone the right to swear upon whatever he/she wants to. If I were to swear on a bible, I would be committing perjury by that very act. I would be remiss if I didn't point that out to the court. It would be like making a diehard Christian swear upon a Harry Potter book.
Certainly. I sort of took for granted that a person has the right to not swear upon a bible or to god. I was aiming at Cyrus' idea that we should attempt to remove the possibility of descrimination based on lack of religious convictions (ahem.. so to speak).
Personally I don't take any oath too seriously. I will be the way I will be oath or not.
 
  • #49
Evo said:
Washington himself was certainly not Christian, and from what I've read, I would question if he held any belief in a deity at all, but do you doubt that addressing a public that was very Christian that his proclamation was not taken by that public to mean the Christian God? And do you think that he did not mean for them to read that into his proclamation? What would you think of a politician today making such a statement?

Politicians always have to create some sort of duality when giving speeches on this matter. He probably realized saying 'God' would suffice with the Christian crowd without causing any controversy. Plus, why would he directly mention the Christian God if he didn't believe in it? It's bad enough people misinterpret what our founding fathers said. I can only imagine the misconception of George Washington being a christian arising and people pointing to this speech.
 
  • #50
Oh, and secular just means a state that is neutral towards religion. Not a state that opposes religion.
 
  • #51
Some good stuff here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oath_of_office_of_the_President_of_the_United_States
It is uncertain how many Presidents used a Bible or added the words "So help me God" at the end of the oath, as neither is required by law; unlike many other federal oaths which do include the phrase "So help me God."
...
Theodore Roosevelt did not use a Bible when taking the oath in 1901. Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, and Richard Nixon swore the oath on two Bibles. John Quincy Adams swore on a book of law.
...
Washington kissed the Bible afterwards, as some later Presidents did, but modern Presidents have not—except for Harry Truman ...
 
  • #53
LightbulbSun said:
So Washington was a Christian after all?
Not an easy question. From what I've read, I would say he was a cautious Christian and a wholehearted Deist (in the broad sense that he believe in the existence of a supernatural deity).

He went to church very regularly, but almost never mentioned Jesus or the Bible in his writings (though he did write a lot about God).
 
  • #54
It doesn't surprise me that Nixon swore on two bibles—one for each face. :rolleyes:
 
  • #55
Gokul43201 said:
Not an easy question. From what I've read, I would say he was a cautious Christian and a wholehearted Deist (in the broad sense that he believe in the existence of a supernatural deity).

He went to church very regularly, but almost never mentioned Jesus or the Bible in his writings (though he did write a lot about God).
I have read that he didn't really attend church.

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Was_George_Washington_a_Christian
 
  • #56
He was a vestryman of Truro (I think) Parish. I think it would have been very odd if he didn't attend somewhat regularly. He is also known to have gone about buying the most expensive pews for his family at a number of churches. How much of this was for the sake of appearances, I don't know. Barring that Wiki Answers page, I have not seen anything that described Washington as dismissive of Christianity, in the way that Jefferson was, for instance. I think the important thing to note about GW was that he was an all-embracer. He's not the kind of person that would care to publicly rile against the Church even if he thought it was all a fairytale.
 
  • #57
Gokul43201 said:
He was a vestryman of Truro (I think) Parish. I think it would have been very odd if he didn't attend somewhat regularly. He is also known to the gone about buying the most expensive pews for his family at a number of churches. How much of this was for the sake of appearances, I don't know. Barring that Wiki Answers page, I have not seen anything that described Washington as dismissive of Christianity, in the way that Jefferson was, for instance. I think the important thing to note about GW was that he was an all-embracer. He's not the kind of person that would care to publicly rile against the Church even if he thought it was all a fairytale.
Yes, I have read both about Washington and agree with your assessment of his personality.
 
  • #58
Jefferson was definitely what we would call an atheist today, perhaps Washington just went through the motions. I agree with Cyrus, if you are an atheist, in court you have an even more uphill battle. Here is an excerpt from atheist.org relating to a case where a girl refused to say the Lords prayer before playing a basketball game. The father went to talk to the Principal who, as any good christian would, punched him a few times.

Represented by attorneys Tom Gungoll and American Atheists National Legal Director Edwin Kagin, Smalkowski endured a five-day trial that included a grilling of the school district superintendent. Mr. Kagin patiently explained to the jurors what Atheism was. Many of the prospective jurors opined that they could not believe the word of an Atheist over that of a god-fearing Christian, and were struck for cause. Some, including the wives of two local ministers, admitted that they were incapable of being fair to an Atheist in such a situation.

The father was nonetheless acquitted as the case was utter nonsense, even with a jury in the extremely religious state of Oklahoma. So perhaps there is hope, but I would hate to be Mr. Smalkowski for sure. And that was with good Lawyers, imagine what you would get with a public defender.
 
  • #59
Please post a complete link to the page that is quoted.

It's not clear from your post exactly who punched who, and for what reason, or who was facing trial.
 
  • #60
Gokul43201 said:
Please post a complete link to the page that is quoted.

It's not clear from your post exactly who punched who, and for what reason, or who was facing trial.

I found the link: http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/smalko3.htm"
 
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  • #61
Wow... I hope that they drop the hammer on all of them. My understanding of US politics is a bit shaky, but isn't conspiracy an even more serious offense than the act that they are conspiring to commit? May they all rot in prison.
 
  • #62
Danger said:
Wow... I hope that they drop the hammer on all of them. My understanding of US politics is a bit shaky, but isn't conspiracy an even more serious offense than the act that they are conspiring to commit? May they all rot in prison.

Conspiracy itself can usually be charged seperately if the aim of the conspiracy was not successful but it is generally used more to increase the penalty for the crime. I don't think penalties for conspiracy charges in and of themselves are usually quite as harsh as those for the intended crime. It may depend on the crime and circumstances.

Edit: that is, in this case the crime itself may be fairly minor but to claim that it was born of a conspiracy to infringe upon the rights of the victims could well increase the penalties dramatically.
 
  • #63
Thanks for the clarification, Stats.
 
  • #64
If you could see God, will you go on with scientific research ?
 
  • #65
Marie Cury said:
If you could see God, will you go on with scientific research ?

And if a bullfrog had wings, would it bump its a$$ so much?

edit: Okay, when the hell did the censor software tune into 'a s s'? I've always gotten away with that one before.

edit #2: Have replaced 's' with '$' to bypass censor programme.
 
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