(Photo: Reuters/Stephanie McGehee)
British magistrates looking to remove the option of swearing an oath on the Bible from the court are finding opposition in the face of church leaders who say such a move would seek to further remove religion from society.
"The Bible is bound up with the constitution, institutions and history of this country. It is right for people to have a choice of oath, a religious or non-religious one," said the The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, according to The Daily Mail.
"But we are being urged, in the name of tolerance and secularization, to restrict that choice."
Even though people have the option between swearing before the Bible or taking a non-religious oath, the Magistrates' Association, which represents 23,000 lay magistrates, will be discussing this month whether or not an oath on the Bible is taken seriously, and whether the option should be replaced by an entirely secular one. Witnesses and defendants would have to pledge before the court that they are telling the truth without referring to God, and could be jailed if found out to be lying.
"More and more I see people shrug their shoulders or say 'whatever' when asked to take it," said Bristol magistrate Ian Abrahams who proposed scrapping the oath.
"I'm suggesting we take holy books out of the process. Instead, people will have to show they understand they could be sent to prison if they don't tell the truth," Abrahams continued. "I don't intend my motion to make any comment on religion. It is certainly not anti-religious."
The secular oath would apparently read: "I promise very sincerely to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and I understand that if I fail to do so I will be committing an offence for which I will be punished and may be sent to prison."
According to a 2011 census by the Office for National Statistics, 59 percent, or 33.2 million of English and Wales residents identify as Christian, which is down by over 12 percentage points since 2001. On the other hand, those identifying with "no religion" increased by over 10 percentage points to 25 percent of the population, or 14.1 million.
The Rev Arun Arora, director of communications for the Church of England, noted that the majority do still identify as Christians, and two thirds as people of faith – and so the proposal is trying to ignore the statistics that show that the UK remains a faithful nation.
"This kind of proposal seems driven more by blinkered campaigning agendas than abiding interests in justice and truth," Arora said.
Other members of the British parliament have also criticized the proposal, including Tory MP for Salisbury John Glen, who said that the move "smacks of political correctness gone mad."
Nazir-Ali, who was the Bishop of Rochester from 1994 to 2009, also recently criticized the state of religious education in the UK, which according to a report is so bad that some students are unaware that Jesus Christ is a central figure in Christianity.
"There is a whole generation of children who have only a superficial knowledge of Christianity," Nazir-Ali said, responding to the Ofsted 48-page report.
The Church of England commented that the blame for such poor education lies in government policy – "in particular the removal of support and the squeeze on places for training RE teachers is a scandal."