February 16, 2007

Keep Superstition Out of the Courtroom

I call your attention to a short letter published in the Fayetteville Observer by Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director of the American Humanist Association. Speckhardt argues that courtroom oaths should be secular and to attempt to incorporate all possible religions is absurd. He's right.

Should a witness be required to swear an oath on the Christian bible? Of course not! America may be a Christian nation in the sense that the majority of Americans profess their Christianity, but this is simply not relevant here. Why would a Christian want a non-Christian to swear on a bible in the first place? Doesn't the Christian realize that an oath sworn over something that is not meaningful to the swearer has no value?

What is the optimal solution given that we live in a multicultural society with great religious diversity? Do we have Christians swear on bibles, Muslims on Qurans, Scientologists on Hubbard, etc., and how much of this are we really prepared to accommodate? Before commenting on the absurdity, Speckhardt raises the logistical question about whether we start asking people to bring their own book to court for this purpose.

Of course, Speckhardt also raises the critical question: How are a witness' religious beliefs (or lack thereof) even relevant here? He concludes that they are not and that any oaths deemed necessary should be secular.

I can hear the inevitable protests which will follow (and isn't it interesting how they always come first from Christians?). There will be a chorus of complaints about how secularism is a religion (it isn't), about how secular oaths represent the persecution of Christians (they don't), or about how Christians should be entitled to ram their beliefs down the throats of the unwilling (they shouldn't). But the lesson here is clear - ending religious discrimination requires us to honor the secular roots of our system of government.

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