Filthy, germ-infested “so help me god” bibles

Those bibles in our court rooms are literally disgusting. Think of the filth exposed when objects / hands are held up to ultra-violet lights. For this reason, I never read magazines at the doctor’s office. Everybody touches them!

Bibles are gross


(click to embiggen)

I received a letter from an atheist who recently gave sworn testimony. She was shocked to hear the bailiff’s extra dose of religion as she was sworn in. She not only had to wash her hands, she probably needed a shower after this experience.

I swear…

Hello! From all of my atheist blogs, you seem like the one of the most knowledgeable and able to give pertinent advice about a situation I was just in. I had 2 separate court cases last month, both falling in the same week. Divorce, and then a work-related case.

On the first day, the bailiff did the oath like this: “Do you swear or affirm… truth stuff… giving the same answers you’d give to god on the last glorious day?”

Crazy right? I was kinda speechless at the extra dose of religion she’d put in the place of “so help you god”.

So, on later that week, knowing that I was going to be in front of 3 sets of lawyers and a jury, I specifically mentioned it to my attorney. She said that the effusive god-ness wouldn’t happen. I told her my problem wasn’t the extra, it was the basic god thing too. I said I’m an atheist, and she should talk to whoever in the court, I would need the god switched out for “under penalty of perjury” or something. I’ll give you one guess as to the oath I got.

I’m incredibly pissed at her, and disappointed in myself for not correcting the bailiff instead of just meekly saying “I do”. I don’t know I’d there’s anything I can do retrospectively, but there has to be a way to fight for future cases. I KNOW I’m not the only atheist in my little part of the world, and no one should have to make the choice between going along with Christian privilege or damaging their credibility in front of the jury (because we are the most distrusted group) by making a scene about the oath.

Thank you for any advice/help you can offer!


Excellent question. Yes this is a bit tricky in both situations. First of all, you do have the right to demand a secular oath, as you thought. I’m surprised your lawyer didn’t better inform you!

States will vary, but overall the advice seems to be similar. Typically you should inform the judge / bailiff ahead of time that you wish to affirm rather than swear.

1) Divorce

This is especially tricky if a custody battle is expected. Most stories are pretty bleak, and many atheists bite their tongues. Especially if divorcing a religious partner! Judges have been shown to treat atheists harshly in custody cases, simply because of their atheism.

If there are no children, then finances are a likely source of contention. This is a very serious concern for many. You are the only one who could decide, and I am not a lawyer.

That aside… if both parents are atheists, or if there are no children involved, and finances weren’t a deal-breaker… I’d have blasted the bailiff right then and there. I’ll get to HOW to do that in a bit.

2) Work-related

Financial concerns may very well be at play here too. What I’m not sure about your story is whether or not the court system IS your workplace. (E.G. You’re some sort of expert witness, or other paid consultant.)

If you are ‘simply’ involved in a case against an employer (or former employer), by speaking out, you may indeed risk ruffling the feathers of those that may be deciding your financial situation soon. It’s up to you where your priorities lay. If the case isn’t really about you, then I’d blast that bailiff without hesitating.

[UPDATE: she let me know the case wasn’t really about her, and she is rightfully pissed at the lawyer.]


There is an inherent level of risk that people accept as they request affirmation rather than religious tests for honesty. Some people may determine their own situation to be ‘too risky’. There is nothing wrong with that. Others may be in similar situations and opt for affirmation anyway.

Next time, you’ll be better prepared to make that assessment. It’s unfortunate that your lawyer dismissed your concerns without taking any action. It’s an entirely pedestrian process. Good on you for your instinctive attempt to handle the situation correctly.

If you expect to interact in court again, please record this bailiff’s actions. Send it to the FFRF, or AA, AU, or any similar organization. Shit- send it to me.

One way to do it.

I’ve also struggled with this oath in the military. An officer wouldn’t even take my testimony without a huge hassle.

Superior: “Do you, Justin Griffith… swear to tell the truth so help you god?”

Justin Griffith: “No. I don’t believe in god, sir.”

Superior: “In that case you don’t have to swear. Rather you can affirm. Would you like to affirm?”

JG: “Yes sir.”

Superior: “Do you, Justin Griffith… affirm that your statements are true so help you god?”

JG: “No. I don’t believe in god, sir.”

Superior: “We have to get through this, Sergeant Griffith.”

JG: “Well, sir – I think you should leave off that bit at the end, then.”

Superior: “That’s not an option that I’m aware of. I think we should just get it over with.”

I nodded, and looked him directly in the eye:

Superior: “Do you, Justin Griffith… affirm that your statements are tru-”

JG: “YES SIR!” (interjecting at exactly the right moment).

This caught him off guard. He let out a nervous smile and then gave up with the ‘so help me god’. I gave my testimony, and deployed the next week.

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