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News So help me God

  1. Jun 2, 2010 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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    Since I haven't spent any time in a court of law, I can only assume that these are the words actually spoken when a person is sworn in and placed under oath. Are these the words still used?

    If so, then I see a Constitutional problem. If a person believes in God, the oath has profound meaning. The believer sees eternal implications for their actions. If a person does not believe in God, then the words are "just words" having only legal implications. This suggests that believers are held to a higher standard than non-believers.

    So it seems that "so help me God" should be removed from the oath, if it hasn't been already.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2010
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  3. Jun 2, 2010 #2
    Re: Soul help me God

    They still swear on the Bible too, don't they?

    I think we reformed that in Sweden about 35 years ago (we, too, used to swear under the mercy of God, or somethign similar), now you swear on your honor and conscience.


    Slightly related question: Are Muslims allowed to swear on the Quran instead of the Bible?
     
  4. Jun 2, 2010 #3

    BobG

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    What does the "so help me God" part even mean?

    That the person is asking God to give them the strength and courage to tell the truth, even if that truth is painful?

    Or that the person is asking God to help them by punishing them if they fail to tell the truth? And if the latter, how severe of punishment are they asking for? Just a whack across the head with a 2x4 or to be struck down by a lightning bolt the next time they play golf?

    And couldn't they just ask forgiveness next time they go to confession? Or couldn't you do like Irish women and ask forgiveness ahead of time? (Granted, they're only asking forgiveness for gossipping, which isn't quite in the same league as perjury.)

    In fact, considering the Ten Commandments just list lying as an offense and don't specify where or why, is lying in court any worse than lying to your mother about what you've hidden under your mattress?

    I guess some believers would understand what they're saying and the oath might have profound meaning for them. I'd only understand that I'm promising to tell the truth.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2010
  5. Jun 2, 2010 #4

    Ivan Seeking

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    When a religious person invokes the name of God in conjuction with an oath, they invoke eternal liability for their actions. It is a sin to invoke the name of God in vain. So while a non-believer only has to worry about a lie if they get caught, a religious person believes they are uniquely liable for that lie, whether they get caught lying, or not. And this operates on two levels. First, a religious person believes they are always eternally liable for a lie, while a non-believer is not. Next, lying under oath after invoking God's name makes the liability far more serious. I'm not sure, but I think that would be considered blasphemy by most churches. So the non-believer might face six months in jail for lying while under oath, while the religious person may believe that lie could mean eternal damnation.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2010
  6. Jun 2, 2010 #5

    BobG

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    Re: Soul help me God

    They're allowed to swear on the Quran when taking an oath of office (or any other book for that matter).

    Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, raised quite a stir when he announced he was taking the oath of office on the Koran instead of the Bible (in fact, he used Thomas Jefferson's copy of the Koran).

    Conservative talk radio host Dennis Prager wrote a poorly researched editorial saying:

    Of course, the problem with Prager's editorial is that John Quincy Adams took his Presidential Oath on a law book, Lyndon Johnson took his oath of office on a Catholic missal, Debbie Wasserman Shultz took her Congressional oath on the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), Linda Lingle took her Governor's oath on a Tanakh, and so it goes. In fact, Congressmen don't actually even take the official oath on any book at all, since they're sworn in en masse. Whatever book they choose is used during a personal re-enactment for photo purposes.

    Romans would hold their testicles while swearing to tell the truth or swearing in to office. That would be an interesting practice to bring back.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2010
  7. Jun 2, 2010 #6

    BobG

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    Looking at the history of the phrase, "with God as my witness" is clearer. "So help me God" is a little anachronistic and the meaning isn't clear in today's context. The speaker is invoking God as a co-signor as you will to what he says and implicating God in any lies the speaker may tell.

    In fact, that's the reason Quakers and Mennonites refuse to swear oaths like that, since even an honest error in testimony would be implicating God in their error.
     
  8. Jun 2, 2010 #7
    The answer to your question is no, that term is not used when taking an oath in a court room. There was a good video about this by a lawyer, I'll see if I can dig it up.
     
  9. Jun 2, 2010 #8
    I had to say this exactly to the letter in high school when we enacted a trial in front of the class.
     
  10. Jun 2, 2010 #9
    I'm pretty sure it was never a legal obligation to take oath to testify in the courts... was it?

    Anyways I am also pretty sure that it's not required however you can request to take an oath. And it would be an oath of your personally choosing, in order to 'verify' that you are telling the truth to the best of your knowledge/recollection abilities.

    Actually even in some Christian religions taking an oath is strictly forbidden. It is supposed to be assumed that you are telling the truth, as a Christian, ALL the time. And that you don't need to take an oath in order to tell the truth. I'm not sure how that would play out in a testimony if oaths were required, maybe this type of 'not-allowing oaths' is only for 'I SWEAR TO GOD I DIDN'T DO IT!' :rofl:
     
  11. Jun 2, 2010 #10
    But can you perjure (that's a verb?) without being under oath? I mean, my knowledge of American courts mostly comes from boring TV dramas, but they always yell "REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE UNDER OATH!" to the witness. That would seem a bit silly if it doesn't have any legal implications.


    Also, I'm totally going to become a congressman and then demand to be sworn in on Das Kapital.
     
  12. Jun 2, 2010 #11
    Yeah, they do something else called an 'affirmation' if you don't take an oath. Basically you are assumed to be telling the truth to the best of your knowledge and if you knowingly lie then it's perjury.
     
  13. Jun 2, 2010 #12

    Ivan Seeking

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    The double-standard is obvious enough that I thought this may have already been addressed.

    Ironically, for Christians generally, I don't think swearing on a Bible actually has any significance. Invoking the name of God is clearly a problem in most religions. But, by definition, there could be no Biblical teachings about swearing on a Bible. Biblical self-references are not possible. Some churches, in particular the Catholics, could have evolved this doctrine over time, but it wouldn't necessarily apply to all Christian religions.
     
  14. Jun 2, 2010 #13

    Borek

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    In Poland "tak mi dopomóż Bóg" (which is equivalent of "so help me God") is optional. Whenever you have to take an oath you can add it at your own discretion (risk?). I wonder if it is not the case also in US, after all, that's a logical solution when state is separated from the religion, but people can believe whatever they want.
     
  15. Jun 2, 2010 #14
    James 5:12 (New American Standard Bible)

    12But above all, (A)my brethren, (B)do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.


    This is why many Christians will not swear on the bible.
     
  16. Jun 2, 2010 #15

    Ivan Seeking

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    That has nothing to say about swearing on a Bible. The problem is taking any kind of oath.
     
  17. Jun 2, 2010 #16
    Taking an oath IS swearing on the bible. In the bible it specifically talks about if you take a false-oath, that is you take an oath but you lied about it, then God will NOT forgive you EVER. You are going to be eternally damned... no matter what else you do in your life. It SPECIFICALLY talks about this.

    Now taking an oath isn't forbidden in the bible, it's recommended against however. For instance, Jesus Christ one time took an oath and the story is in the bible. Now I don't know if it would be against the rules to start referencing all of this but it's in there :tongue:.

    The reason that the bible suggests against taking an oath is that if you never take an oath then you are always free to make a mistake. If you take an oath you are not free to make any mistakes, everything must be truth as far as you know. So it's pretty risky and you're better off not taking the oath to avoid 'upsetting' god. :tongue:. As well it is assumed that a christian need not take oath in order to be telling the truth, so introducing 'I swear to god' etc. etc. makes it seem like it's ok to lie as long as you don't say that, which isn't true in christianity. They are supposed to always be telling the truth and that is supposed to be something which is just 'accepted' as true by those who are being talked with.
     
  18. Jun 2, 2010 #17

    Ivan Seeking

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    No it's not. Again, by definition this is not possible as the bible cannot be self-referencing. This is a matter of historical fact. The bible didn't exist when the books in the Bible were written. So the bible cannot make references to swearing on a bible! It is a logical impossibility. Now, swearing on a bible is taking an oath, but my point was that the oath is the problem, not the book used.

    I don't want this to be a religious debate. Nor is that allowed. I was just making a minor point about the actual point of objection. What I'm saying is self-evident and irrefutable. What is discussed is taking any oath, swearing, etc. So in the strictest sense, any required oath could violate some people's religious beliefs. That is what matters here. There is no doubt that a spectrum of beliefs exist regarding oaths, or swearing, so that becomes a matter specific to each religion. Some religions do see any Bible as being sacred. So any given religion may consider a "Bible oath" as being sacred. But that would not automatically be true for all Christian religions.

    Falsely invoking the name of God is another matter altogether. That is pretty much a universal no-no for any Christian religion, as well as Islam.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2010
  19. Jun 2, 2010 #18

    lisab

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    In the state of Washington, the local court has a page for FAQ about jury duty.

    http://www.courts.wa.gov/newsinfo/resources/

    Two snips from that link:

    • (Juror instructions) You will also take an oath, in which you will promise to answer all questions truthfully.
    • (Glossary of terms) oath: Written or oral pledge by a person to keep a promise or speak the truth.

    It doesn't mention God, just a promise. Honestly, I'd be quite surprised if they did, but this state has one of the lowest rates of church attendance in the US.


    Edit: From the New Jersey courts page...

    https://njcourts.judiciary.state.nj.us/web0/juror.htm

    "Do you swear or affirm that you will try the matter in dispute and give a true verdict according to the evidence?"
    N.J.S.A. 2B:23-6 Oath of Jurors
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2010
  20. Jun 2, 2010 #19

    Ivan Seeking

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    As a Catholic kid, one could always catch a Catholic friend in a lie by demanding that they "swear to God". After all, we are talking about eternal damnation! Good thing mom never thought of that one. :biggrin:
     
  21. Jun 2, 2010 #20

    BobG

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    Ivan's right in a general sense, but there's always folks that garble the message.

    I still remember the scene in Fried Green Tomatoes where the Reverend is being sworn in and turns down the offer of the court Bible, saying he brought his own. He then perjures himself by saying that Idgie was at his Bible study class.

    After being acquitted, Idgie exclaims, "I can't believe he swore on the Bible!" and Ruth replies, "Well, if that judge had looked any closer, he'd have seen that it was a copy of Moby Dick."
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2010
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