A lawyer in Scotland has called for the abolition of the religious court oath, quoting an increasing number of atheists in the country.
"Historically swearing, an oath to God served two purposes; firstly, the religious aspect is that the witness is promising to tell the truth and shall answer to God if they lie in court," lawyer Sean Templeton wrote in a piece for The Scottish Herald, published Monday. "Secondly, the legal aspect is that the witnesses' status changes from an everyday citizen to a person whose answers to questions must be truthful as otherwise they are committing an offence, and potentially a very serious offence."
The current oath in the United Kingdom is: "I swear by Almighty God that I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."
Its secular version, a statement of affirmation, reads: "I solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."
According to the Oaths Act of 1978, which established the oath rules, "Any person who objects to being sworn shall be permitted to make his solemn affirmation instead of taking an oath."
But the lawyer called for "a single oath in court for all, regardless of belief or religion."
He argued in his commentary that the religious landscape has changed since the affirmation was introduced and that there is an ever-increasing number of atheists in the country currently. Atheists can either "'quietly' swear the oath without any Godly belief or to affirm" – in which case they "are not exempt from perjury charges for lying to a God they don't believe in" – or say the statement of affirmation.
But that does not solve the problem, the lawyer contended.
"The problem with affirmation is that it sets a witness out and it instantly draws a great deal of attention to the fact that the person will not swear to God," he stated. "It is a statement relating to a person's personality and belief that no other witness is required to make, unless it is a facet of the particular case.
"It is impossible to be certain that such an aspect of the witnesses' personality will not affect the views of some jurors as to the quality of their evidence. Those holding extremely strong (potentially bigoted) religious views may dismiss everything the witness says in light of their affirmation. Even if the juror is not that strongly affected, but still affected to a degree, then there is potential for an unfair verdict that need not exist in a modern legal system."
According to a 2001 census, Scotland is predominantly Christian, with the Church of Scotland in the majority at 42.4 percent. People who have not declared a religion constitute more than a quarter of the population.