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What if You Do Not Want to Swear an Oath to God in the United States?

November 17th, 2023

In a Supreme Court case last year, the court found the City of Boston's flag-raising program does not constitute government speech.
Despite the separation between church and state, there are many situations where Americans may be asked to swear an oath to God.

Despite America’s official secular stance, there are many situations in which an American citizen might be asked to swear an oath to God. For example, someone might be ordered to swear that they will tell the truth before testifying during a trial. Often, the witness is required to swear on a Bible. In addition, elected government officials are often “sworn in.” What happens if you do not believe in God? Do you still have to make this oath?

There Should Never be a Legal Requirement to Swear An Oath to God in the United States

First of all, it is important to remember that no American is actually required to swear an oath to God or on the Bible. This was not always the case, and during America’s earliest years, “non-believers” were banned from giving testimony in court. This is no longer allowed because the First Amendment of the Constitution prevents the government from forcing anyone to perform a religious act. 

You Can Give an “Affirmation” Instead of an Oath to God

Many courts will assume by default that you are okay with swearing an oath to God on the Bible when you’re sworn in before giving testimony. In many ways, this is the “default” way in which people are sworn in. However, you can let the court know ahead of time that you would rather give an “affirmation.” An affirmation is essentially a solemn, formal promise to be truthful. Instead of swearing to God, those giving affirmations swear by their own sense of honor. 

You Can Choose Any Book

It is also worth pointing out that Americans do not need to swear on a Bible. They do not even need to swear on a holy book of any kind, although many non-Christians would likely choose texts that match their own faiths. There are a number of past US presidents who did not swear their oaths of office on the Bible. Some gave affirmations instead of oaths. In 2019, a St. Louis County Council member swore on a book by Dr. Seuss when she was elected. 

Do Jurors Trust Those Who Refuse to Swear on the Bible?

With all that said, there is some evidence that people who fail to swear on Bibles may be viewed with a certain degree of distrust by jurors. According to the Royal Holloway University of London, defendants who do not swear to God are more likely to be found guilty by jurors. Specifically, affirmations seem to be viewed with more distrust compared to oaths to God. This means that even if defendants are not religious or do not believe in a Christian God, it still might be beneficial to make a religious oath from a purely logical standpoint. 

New Jersey Politician Sues Government for Not Removing Phrase “So Help Me God”

Despite the well-established separation of church and state in the United States, the phrase “so help me God” continues to cause issues throughout the nation. Such was the case when a New Jersey politician recently sued the state for not removing the phrase from his oath. He specifically requested that they do this, as he is an Atheist planning to make an affirmation instead of an oath. However, his request was apparently denied by the state. 

Continue Reading the Universal Life Church’s Blog

Each week, the Universal Life Church’s blog focuses on documenting the most noteworthy cases involving the required separation between church and state. Despite required Constitutional separation, many fear that the Supreme Court’s current majority could erode these constitutional safeguards. Our blog focuses on describing matters in a way that objectively examines both sides and which can be easily understood by readers. 

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