Irony: So Help Me God and Making Oaths to Other Gods
You’d think that jury duty and court cases would remember the premise of separation of Church and State. What if the defendant is an atheist? Or Muslim? Or Wiccan? Does this mean only Christians can sit in judgment? Will a non-Christian get a fair trial?
The last time I gave a deposition was at least 15 years ago. I was Christian at the time and still didn’t particularly care for either the idea of swearing on a Bible (“What if some people don’t believe in the Bible?” I’d asked…to incredulous looks) or swearing in general. I was told that all that had changed, that the legal system was more observant of separating Church and State, that I would no longer be asked to put my hand on a Bible or swear to the Father of Jesus. That’s not entirely true. The Bible may be gone from the courtroom but God is not.
At this point in my spiritual journey, swearing means nothing to me but an insult. I don’t lie, and I believe that my word is good enough. Swearing won’t make me any more truthful so it’s offensive to me to be asked. And why would swearing to tell the truth make any difference to a liar? What’s the point? Does swearing to your god make you think twice about lying? If so, why? Would not the same god strike you down for lying when not under oath as when under oath? Isn’t the sin the same?
Yes, I have taken oaths in the past. I have taken them to my country in pursuit of my livelihood. I have been Christian and sworn so-help-me-God to the God of the Christians. And I have taken an oath to the Morrigan. Would I take the latter oath again? Perhaps. But not because the oath makes me any more likely to do what I have committed to do but that the oath in that context is ritual to me.
So I’ve been summoned before a court and told to swear. Is that the same as being summoned to attend a ritual? A ritual where, if someone asked that the words be changed to “So help me, Morrigan” or “So help me, Allah” or “So help me, Flying Spaghetti Monster,” the 200 people sitting here fidgeting would be up in arms? Would that make them pay attention to the words? To the concept of separation of Church and State?
I look around this room full of perspective jurors, not yet knowing that I will be asked both to swear and to conclude my oath with “So help me, God” three separate times in one day before I take my seat in the jury box and yet wonder why witnesses on the stand are asked only to “swear” or “affirm,” with no invocation of God. I wonder if any one of these 200 people in the room with me have given So-Help-Me-God a second thought. Or is it only those of us to whom the invocation of a God means more than just words we’ve become accustomed to from over-usage?