Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?

Look at an American coin.  What does it say?
Huh?  What coin are you looking at?  What’s Monticello?
The coin is a nickel.  Monticello is where Thomas Jefferson and his family lived.
The Jefferson Memorial?
No.  That’s different.
What else does it say?
E. Pluribus Unum.
Anything else?
Five cents.
United States of America.
Liberty 2013 P.
Huh?  What’s the P for?
Means it was minted in Philadelphia.
Oh, okay.  What else does it say?  (Come on!)
In God We Trust.

This one was minted in Denver in 2003.  The tiny FS stands for Felix Schlag, the designer.  Photo source:

See?  In God We Trust.  That’s America’s motto.  But I thought America was supposed to be a secular nation!

You do realize, some people don’t believe in God.  Some examples:

  • Some don’t think She* or He* exists.
  • Some aren’t sure.
  • Some believe in gods but not God.
  • Some people don’t believe in or aren’t sure about gods, either.

Me, I don’t really believe in God/gods, but I like the stories.  Stuff from the Mahabharata and Ramayana, Percy Jackson stories….  And it’s always possible that the stories are true!

So why does America’s motto involve trusting in God?!

And what about the Pledge of Allegiance?

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

I don’t think they make you say that, but still.  (Pin and her friend once refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance in school.  I’m proud of them.)

And also, on TV, you sometimes hear people swearing, in court, that they will tell the truth.  I looked up the exact oath on Wikipedia.  It turns out that an “oath” is religious, and an “affirmation” is not.  Both oaths and affirmations are used in America.  Here is the oath/affirmation:

Do you solemnly (swear/affirm) that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, (so help you God/under pains and penalties of perjury)?

Also according to Wikipedia:

Swear may be replaced with “affirm”, and either “so help you God” or “under pains and penalties of perjury” may be used; all oaths and affirmations are considered to be equivalent before the law.[5] These modifications to the oath were originally introduced in order to accommodate those who feel uncomfortable swearing religious oaths, such as Quakers, as well as to accommodate the irreligious.[6] In United States v. Ward, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that certain other modifications of the oath were acceptable so long as they demonstrated “a moral or ethical sense of right and wrong”.[7]

Also Wikipedia says:

Oath (California):

You do solemnly state that the testimony you may give in the case now pending before this court shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God.

It doesn’t say whether or not you can give an affirmation in California though.  I hope you can.  Also, why can’t they put “to  the best of my knowledge” in it?  That would be good.

You know, for me an affirmation would have a stronger hold than an oath.  With an oath, if I accidentally lied, or lied for some very good reason, God would still “so help me.”  With an affirmation, I would be punishing myself, and I might be stricter than God!

In any case, though, I’d have the law to deal with if I lied.  And I believe that the law definitely does exist, even if I’m not so sure about God.


*For a small rant on sexism in the Gettysburg Address, see here.

This entry was posted in By Khiyali, philosophy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?

  1. rpillala says:

    In the cases of currency and the national motto, insertion of “God” was designed to be a response to the “godless” Communists. You might find it interesting to investigate that, and to watch for people behaving similarly in modern times to the anti-communist zealots in Congress and in Hollywood. In particular, the phrase “un-American activities” has popped up again a few times in the last 3-5 years.

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