Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Raise your right hand and swear to tell the truth ... on the Koran?

I can hear it now ... "do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you (fill in the blank)" ...

Raise your right hand and swear to tell the truth ... on the Koran? Quote!

The recent refusal by a Guilford County, N.C., judge to allow a Muslim woman to swear upon Islam's holy text before testifying is, in part, a new First Amendment challenge. And here in the Tar Heel state, the idea of swearing on books other than the Bible has reinvigorated a debate on the relationship between faith and truth that goes back to the founding documents of both the Carolinas and the country.

... more ...

Already, witnesses in American courts do not have to take a religious oath and can instead simply testify on pain of perjury. It's up to judges to decide what passes for an oath.

Most have apparently given other oaths wide latitude. In a federal terrorism case in 1997 in Washington D.C., for instance, the judge allowed Muslim witnesses to swear to Allah. And the practice isn't new: Mochitura Hashimoto, the Japanese submarine commander who testified in the court martial of a US Navy captain in 1945, was allowed by a military tribunal to swear on his beliefs of Shinto, the ancient religion of Japan.

..and ..

Since Judge Albright's decision, there's been a growing number of requests by other religious groups to have their holy texts allowable under law.

"It's gotten way out there: They've got everything from the Book of Mormon to the Book of Wicca on the list," says Judge Albright. "Our position is that the statute governs not only the type of oath, but the manner and administration of the oath, and that it's now a legislative matter to straighten out."

... still more ...

But the Carolinas have their own unique role in the history of oaths. British philosopher John Locke, who helped forge the Fundamental Constitutions in the Carolinas in the 1660s, believed that atheists could not hold office or testify. After all, Locke wondered, how could anyone believe what they said if they carried no fear of God?