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So Help Me Nobody -- Court affirmations
So Help Me Nobody -- Court affirmations
An Objection In Court
by Dave Silverman
Every once in a while we are faced with the opportunity to stand up for that which we believe. For most of us, such opportunities do contain some degree of risk. While the risk was not dire for me, this month’s column is about such an opportunity presented to me last week. The week I went to court.
Now, I’ll spare you the gory details of the case. Suffice it to say that I was the sole witness in a crime against a less-than-perfect driver, who happened to drive perfectly into my new Infiniti. The case was to be my word (along with good evidence) against his.
While I may have a lot to say in the next coming paragraphs, the length of time it took was only a few seconds. It seemed like an eternity to me.
The defendant wanted to plea-bargain, but I urged against it, and there we were in court. A judge, two lawyers, me, and him. The judge asked the prosecutor to call his witness, and I was asked to take the stand. The judge told me to be seated.
The bailiff placed a Bible in front of me.
I actually felt a second of revulsion. Real revulsion, as a vampire would react to a crucifix. Then I stared in amazement at the cross on the cover of the book they placed in front of me. How repuslive, that they would assume that I was Christian, and that I would conform to the majority with complete confidence and without so much as a question.
Yes, I knew this was happening in every courtroom every day, but this was the first time it happened to me. First person. I. Staring at that cross on the book while the Judge shuffled his papers.
Herein lied my opportunity. To take a stand on the stand, and ask for a secular affirmation, or not? Do I risk exposing myself to the prejudices that may be harbored by the judge, or the defending attorney? Would I get a lecture from the Judge about mocking the courtroom? Would the defending attorney verbally assault my ability to tell the truth since I am not a believer?
True, the worst case here would be that a guilty man went free. There was no danger to me in any way, except to be berated for my action. I get berated for my actions all the time in this line of work! Still, my heart raced, and my imagination right along with it.
“Mr. Silverman, please place your hand on the Bible” instructed the judge. In a deep breath, I stuttered, and said “I request a secular alternative”. I was really surprised at how nervous I really was, over this perfectly legal, moral, and ethical, and simple request.
Then it happened. The exact opposite of what I expected. The judge smiled, lifted his hands is acquiescence and quickly said “that’s fine, that’s fine”.
I was affirmed, so help me nobody.
I said my piece, and then the defendant said his. He got fined several hundred dollars and lost his license for six months. I got a thank-you and a respectful nod from the judge.
So now I write with new perspective and new resolve. The perspective is that I now better understand the hesitation that an Atheist feels when placed in a similar position: the fear, the intimidation, and the imagination. All of it intentionally kept there by the Christians in power.
|“I was affirmed, so help me nobody.”|
However, I am renewed at the same time in my resolve to encourage Atheists to take that stand and make that simple legal request. While my sampling of one is hardly significant, this judge had obviously seen this before, many times, and knew exactly what to do, and didn’t care. He just wanted to get through the case.
We all know this issue should not exist. It should be illegal to force Atheists to submit to Christianity or declare their secularism and face bigotry when their religion is not of consequence to the case at hand. Atheists are among the only ones facing that kind of rampant official discrimination. Some time, hopefully soon, this practice will disappear.
I end this article with a similar theme. It won’t go away by itself. Call your congressman, write your paper, and above all, ask for a secular affirmation in court. Only by being vocal can we achieve an end to prejudicial judicial practice.