Do Pagans Have to Swear on a Bible in Court?

Do you have to swear on a Bible when called as a juror?. Image (c) Photodisc/Getty Images

A reader asks, “I’ve been called in for jury duty and it’s my first time doing it. In a way I’m looking forward to it, because I realize it’s part of my civic duty and what makes this country work, but I have one concern. What if they ask me to place my hand on a Bible when I get sworn in? I’ve been Pagan for ten years, and I’d feel like a hypocrite swearing on a Bible, but I don’t want to make waves and have everyone think I’m a jerk who’s just trying to cause trouble. Do I have any other options?

First of all, congratulations on being tapped for jury duty! A lot of people hate it, because it can be time consuming and inconvenient, but it’s something that gives you a real opportunity to get a look at the American judicial process. Do keep in mind that the comments in this article pertain primarily to US-based citizens, unless otherwise indicated.

It’s important to remember that although in the past every single prospective juror was asked to swear upon a Bible to uphold their duties to the best of their abilities, that’s not really the case any more. It’s going to vary depending on where you live – and depending on the presiding judge as well – but in general, most people are simply sworn in without putting their hands on any sort of holy book at all. In many areas of the United States, the court as a whole has recognized that there are vastly different and diverse faiths in this country, so chances are good you’ll just be asked to raise your hand and promise to do the best job you can.

Now, depending on where you live, and what kind of judge you have in the courtroom, it’s certainly possible that the bailiff might trot out a Bible and ask you to place your hand on it. If this happens, don’t assume it’s anything personal, or designed to put you on the spot – it’s more likely that they’ve just always done it this way and it’s never occurred to them to do anything different. If, as you said, you feel hypocritical about swearing on a Bible, you have a couple of options. The first is to ask if you may instead be sworn in on a copy of the Constitution. You don’t necessarily have to offer an explanation, other than that you’d like to do it this way. This document is the foundation of the American legal system, and it’s unlikely that a judge would refuse such a request.

A second option is to ask if you can just raise your hand and affirm that you will do your job, without placing your hand on anything at all. If you make the request politely and respectfully, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to label you as a potential troublemaker. In most states, there are actually statutes in place that detail what other potential options you have, if you’d rather not swear upon a Bible.

Although your question is United States-specific, other countries also have rules in place for how to handle a request of this nature. It’s not uncommon for a prospective juror to ask to swear a secular affirmation rather than take an oath on a Bible, although the wording will vary from one nation to the next.

Wondering about whether the Wiccan Rede has anything to do with court testimony? Be sure to read The Wiccan Rede and Testifying in Court.