Oath or Affirmation?


I have to say my beliefs or lack of them have no great impact on my daily life. I suppose they would if I were particularly religious  but I’d probably place myself as comfortably agnostic with enough doubts to veer intermittently towards atheism and then come back to my issue being more with organised religion than belief itself.

I don’t claim to place any logic on it but in my view belief is something personal to me. So usually I would say I have some vague notions of belief in a kind of higher being but I would not describe myself as religious in any way, despite, or perhaps because I was raised in a vaguely (although not oppressively) religious household.  While being perfectly comfortable around people who are religious, it is all fairly neutral to me.

image IntangibleArts @ flickr

With one exception. I went to court earlier in the week for a 135 (1) Warrant under the Mental Health Act. It is the only situation that my religious beliefs or lack of them are ever questioned.

Usually, the process of applying for a warrant goes as follows.

I complete a written application in the office outlining the reasons we need a warrant. I have to include a very brief summary of the risks involved and why access would only be possible with a warrant (for example, explaining that previous attempts have been in vain).

On arriving at court at a specified time, I go to the Duty Clerk who has an office and he or she checks I have completed the application correctly and that I am properly authorised by the local authority.

Before I leave the office, there is a part of the document that asks to ‘delete as applicable’ whether you are going to make an oath or an affirmation. This is where my dilemma starts.

I have invariably stuck to affirmations. I always feel that slight childhood guilt at doing so though.

The clerk sends me up to a particular court room and I shuffle in very self-consciously – usually with some kind of trial in progress and sit at the side and wait for a gap in proceedings when I will be called up.

The clerk in the courtroom will ask me whether I want to take an oath or make an affirmation and provide a bible for an oath and – well, a script to read for the affirmation. It’s all fairly subtle.

Yesterday was a bit different. Through the ways the courts function, I found myself in what must have been the smallest court in the building. Rather than being asked if I wanted to make an oath or affirmation before presenting my evidence, I was asked more boldly (and loudly) if I ‘had a religious belief or not’.

Noting this was not a time for a spiritual self-examination, I stuck with the affirmation as planned.

But I was a caught a bit off-guard by the question.

I do wonder sometimes if I’m the only person who is genuinely perplexed by the decision to take an oath or an affirmation when I go to court. I spoke to a colleague about it and she laughed saying, quite rightly, there were much more troublesome dilemmas with which I should concern myself! Ultimately, as long as I have complete, true and accurate information, it doesn’t really matter.

But I’ll stick with my affirmations for now. Although I have a bit of childhood residual guilt, it somehow feels more honest for me, personally.

I wonder if I have reached a point of over-reflection!

7 thoughts on “Oath or Affirmation?

  1. As an atheist, I also affirm – but I wonder how many people take an oath on a scripture so that they don’t stand out from the crowd and appear to be a bit of a rebel. I think if you have no religious beliefs you should affirm in every instance but you can be sure that for many it is easier to take an oath with book in hand. But my question is, why would you want to take an oath on a religious book anyway? Surely you are there to tell the truth or, in the case of a juror, give a true verdict. What has religion got to do with it? Out with the scriptures, I say!

  2. Over-reflection! Ha! Been there, done that! 😉

    So he asked for a religious belief…do they have a stack of books back there for all beliefs, or if you have a religious belief do you have to stick to the Bible (or Koran)? I mean, would they be able to come up with a copy of Dianetics? Or the Flying Spaghetti Monster cookbook? How far does it go?

  3. You’ve made me think. How the person who bluntly, literally, interpreted ‘oath or affirmation’ as

    ‘Do you have a religious belief?’, asking a direct question where you’d been used to expecting that space for your personal take on religion and religious belief in your day to day work can pull you up short

    but I don’t think it’s about that, it’s probably more to do with the burden of having to go and swear the oath to people who make a living out of witnessing the swearing of oaths!

    who might be a little precious and officious about their part of the process…
    or just plain ignorant!

  4. OL – I think the ‘standing out’ bit is quite pertinent. What I probably should have added to the post (as it slightly changes the context) is the guy who did his warrant before me, said before even being asked ‘I want to take an oath’ and made a big issue of his beliefs. So I felt a bit embarrassed. But I honestly couldn’t do anything else.
    antiSWer – you know I don’t know. They had a bible out but I have no idea if they have other texts.. usually they just ask if you want an oath or affirmation rather than about deep held (or not) belief systems!
    Soapsoane – I think the person who asked so bluntly was, to be honest, wrong to have placed the question in those terms. Belief is inherently personal. I think it was just a long day!

  5. When I go there are other texts you can chose from but the oath and affirmation are normally on printed cards.

    I really enjoy going to get warrants and find it so different every time. Sometimes there is a panel of magistrates, sometimes one, the clerk doesn’t always know the difference between 135 (1 &2) and I was once invited into the magistrates chambers. I was expecting to be offered a pink gin. I did end up at a magistrates house one afternoon when the huge family bible had to be found and dusted down.

    Have you ever had one turned down?

    On another note- any DOLS updates in your area? Have you done the BIA training yet?

    Hope all is well

  6. TT – Thanks for that. I’ve never had one turned down – in fact, I’ve never been even been asked any questions after presenting the written submission except one time when I was asked the age of the patient (as I’d forgotten to write it down). But remember, I’ve only been warranted since July – although it has been a fairly busy few months..

    I’m actually doing the BIA training two days this week and two days the week after so expect a lot of updating on exactly that topic over the next couple of weeks!

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