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Compulsory Oaths, Seventeenth-Century Quakers and Twenty-First Century Legislators

September 22, 2015

quaker

The leader of the British opposition is a republican.  He does not revere the hereditary principle.  Everybody knows this.

Recent debate has concerned whether or not he is bound to go through various forms of words in order to serve in various official capacities.

Of course, ever since he was elected MP in 1983, he’s been forced to go through a form of words before taking his seat in the chamber at the beginning of every parliament.  All republican MPs are forced to lie before they begin their work.  Everyone says they want politicians with integrity, but they are still forced to begin their parliamentary careers by making a promise they don’t believe in.

And in a sense, it’s not just the republican MPs who make promises they don’t really believe in.  Here is the oath…

“I (name of Member) swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.”

No allegiance to anything other than the royal family.  Now I think if you were to grab almost any MP by chance ask them – “to what or whom is your main loyalty as an MP?” they might reply in a variety of ways – depending on how pompous they were feeling.  They might say “my constituents” or “the national interest” or “my own conscience” or something like that – but I think only two or three really crazy ones would actually answer “the royal family – that’s my only loyalty as a legislator – let Britain and its people burn – so long as the sacred regal bloodline is preserved I’ve done my duty.”

It would not be hard to offer an alternative oath for the monarchy-averse – one which referenced, nation, conscience and constituents.  In an other important contexts, this has already been done.

A few years ago, back in 1695, it was decided that Quakers didn’t have to swear and oath in order to give evidence in court.  Quakers, traditionally do not like swearing oaths – which are in any case discountenanced in the New Testament (Matthew 5:34).  Rather than force someone to swear an oath that they can’t believe in – Quakers were permitted to “affirm” instead.  Slightly later, in 1978, this right was formally extended to everyone.  Non-Christians, when they give evidence in court, can either swear loyalty to a different conception of Deity, or no concept of deity whatsoever.

The reason for this is obvious, if you want people to tell the truth – don’t make them swear a promise they can’t believe in.  If you want sincerity, don’t force them to be insincere.  It’s really that simple.

But for some reason, it’s not considered as important that British legislators promise to be sincere.  Witnesses who assist the exercise of law are allowed to make a sincere promise, but not the people who actually make the law.

Now would it be completely unreasonable to propose in this day and age, that an alternative oath of allegiance was made available to MPs who, like millions of Brits, are monarchy averse – or even just uninterested in monarchy?

Of course, the reason why this hollow monarchist oath is preserved is clear.  Too many politicians prefer submitting to a dynasty to submitting to the British people – they would rather be humble servants of the crown than public servants.  The public might be rather more demanding.

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