As If I Were Before God?

Even though I was actually looking forward to my half-day of jury duty, there was one part that I was a little unsure about: swearing an oath.

I don’t have a problem with promising that I’ll tell the truth; I would have told the truth in any case — unlike some people who may or may not stretch the truth about their opinions to try to get out of jury duty. No, my problem was going to be about one little clause:

So help me God.

As an atheist, I feel it’s important to choose my battles wisely. In the case of swearing (or affirming) an oath to be truthful, I decided that I wouldn’t make a stink about the word God being included in the oath. After all, I didn’t know at the beginning of the afternoon when the oath-taking would come into play, or what the exact verbiage of it would be, so I had no way of knowing whether I’d even need to object to the wording of the oath itself.

Turns out that the Lucas County Courts give jurors and potential jurors a version of the oath that goes a little something like this:

Do you solemnly swear or affirm that the answers you are about to give are the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as if you were before God? If so, answer, ‘I do.'”

We had to affirm our oath on two separate occasions, and I didn’t quite catch the exact wording the first time through. I listened carefully the second time, in the courtroom, and took note of how it was phrased. Although there was a mention of God, it was more in the subjunctiveas if you were before God — not an absolute “so help me God.”

Even as an atheist, thinking about it in retrospect, I can appreciate what it would be like to give answers before a god. I can answer as if I were before an omniscient being who knows if I’m lying. I have no problem with having affirmed this oath.

If I were to have to testify in court, however, I assume that I would need to give an officer of the court advance notice that I prefer to affirm my oath, rather than swear on a Bible. Hopefully, I’ll never have to find out.

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