The Humanist Dilemma: Can I Skip God When Taking an Oath?

Experiencing an ethical dilemma? Need advice from a humanist perspective?

Send your questions to The Humanist Dilemma at (subject line: Humanist Dilemma).

All inquiries are kept confidential.

So Help Me: Before citizens could speak at a recent township planning committee meeting, we each had to affirm an oath to “Tell the truth … ‘so help me God.’” As a humanist, what would be an effective way to object to this phrase on the basis of “facts not in evidence”?

—God No

Dear No,

According to AHA legal experts, you could request to affirm without the God language. Whenever possible, it may be helpful to speak to the oath-giver beforehand and explain your objection to the invocation of a deity. No need to get into “facts not in evidence” language, which is not really germane here (I had to look it up).

If you run into problems, please contact the AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center or any other secular legal eagles. No one has to do any swearing or affirming to any being, real or imaginary, on any book in any court in the country. So certainly there should be no such requirement at a township planning committee meeting.

Aside from what is or isn’t legally or officially required, it’s just patently illogical and futile to feel assured that anyone who would otherwise be inclined to lie wouldn’t do so if they had to invoke a higher authority. Just look at all the crooks in office and in religious bureaucracies—these people all took oaths, usually involving God and the Bible, to no avail.

Your word is your word, and its reliability is entirely dependent on your own character and integrity. No matter how nice it would be to have a magic power to force people to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (such as a fool-proof lie detector), in current reality nothing beyond an individual’s personal ethics makes any difference–whether you swear by a spirit, a spaghetti monster, your children or parents, on a Bible, the Constitution, or a Marvel comic, or whether you cross your heart, raise your hand, or do a nay nay.