A good 13 or so years ago, I got called for jury duty. I was never empaneled, but I got a taste for what a Quaker faces when the bailiff swore us in. "Uh-oh." I had to ask the bailiff to make an accommodation for me, since I will not take oaths. Apparently the courts are agreeable about asking jurors to swear OR affirm that they will tell the truth, and the bailiff was happy to make the language adjustment for me.

Not so with a hostile attorney during the voir dire. He grilled me on my membership in this thing called the Religious Society of Friends. What is that? What do you mean, you can't swear!? How can you perform your duties as a juror if you don't swear!!?

Rather intimidating, that kind of grilling. And I was simply a prospective juror. I felt I got a taste for what defendants and witnesses must endure, which I felt improved my empathy for all involved in the court case.

Now I have been called up again. My previous experience will help, but I find myself contemplating another practice for which I have found no Quaker protocol. Perhaps Friends can instruct me:

What is the point of raising our right hand?  Is it, too, a symbol of a human double standard regarding telling the truth? Is this contrary to our understanding of what God calls us to?

I don't wish to get bogged down in minutiae--a silly poor gospel--so I am especially eager to hear from our Quaker scholars as to whether this has ever been an issue for Friends. If not, I will go about my business as a jurist with a light heart that I am following God.

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Comment by William F Rushby on 12th mo. 31, 2011 at 4:14pm

I would not make an issue of raising your hand.  It would make you look uncooperative rather than as faithful to your religion.

I once was called as a witness at a criminal trial in West Virginia, and there was no fuss over me affirming rather than swearing.  On the other hand, my wife was rejected as a juror in Virginia when she declined to swear.  My brother-in-law was a witness at a criminal trial in Vermont, and he was apparently portrayed as a religious fanatic for declining to swear.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 31, 2011 at 7:45pm

Could raising your right hand to "affirm" be anything else but a sign "of a human double standard regarding telling the truth"?

I haven't had an easy time of it in court; and judges haven't always been happy to see me. I did spend an afternoon and evening in jail because I couldn't remove my hat in homage to a human secular institution-- followed by a long time waiting to be tried for "interfering an officer in the performance of his duty" (to keep me out of the courtroom, he believed.)

The judge that case was assigned to... had Quakers in his ancestry. By "marrying out of Meeting" they had violated the traditional witness against resorting to clergy, and been disowned. (I've run into more than one person whose knowledge of Friends originated in that practice, somewhere back in the family history.)

When I wrote up a civil case against depriving me of access to the court on religious grounds, the precedents were quite clear. So I came back to my trial with an injunction, and the prosecutor, who had wanted to deprive me of my hat while prosecuting me, decided not to pursue the matter.

I haven't always been sure whether or not to raise my hand as a sign that, yeah, I mean to tell the truth (this time). I do intend that, after all. When that's felt wrong, it hasn't mattered to the judge.

I've never been locked up for anything I've been led to do in jury selection. But they usually don't put me on juries.

Comment by Caroline Gulian on 12th mo. 31, 2011 at 8:40pm

In NY I have never had any difficulties with objection to swearing.  Most often, a judge will say "do you swear or affirm".  Raising the right hand has many different origins, but mostly indicative that you are not carrying a weapon.

Comment by ben schultz on 1st mo. 1, 2012 at 1:42pm
"Young lady, are you showing contempt for this court?---Actually Judge (striding away, I'm tryin not to.
Mae West
My Little Chickadee.
Comment by Paula Deming on 1st mo. 1, 2012 at 3:26pm

Caroline, your answer brings up another issue. Traditionally, I am told, shaking hands also was a sign that one was not carrying weapons--which certainly seems anachronistic for Friends. In response, I have developed a warm, double-handed shake of another's outstretched hand--more of a welcoming gesture.

Thank you, Friends, for sharing your experiences. I do feel that the dust-up with the attorney contributed to my not serving on a jury. My husband also thinks I won't be asked, because he himself is a lawyer (but not a Quaker).

Comment by Paula Deming on 1st mo. 1, 2012 at 4:17pm

William, yes, I felt that I had been affixed with the fanatic label as well. That was a jaw-dropper. But shouldn't Quakers be used to that after 350 years??

Comment by Rich Accetta-Evans on 1st mo. 1, 2012 at 5:00pm

To my mind the testimony of integrity (i.e. "single standard of truth") should be separated in our minds from the testimony against swearing.  Many Friends have been able to say that they are always truthful and thus shouldn't be required to swear oaths, but I'm afraid I cannot yet say that I am always truthful.  I want to be, but I fail.  In court, I would gladly affirm rather than swear and gladly consent - as early Friends consistently did - to be liable to penalties for perjury if I failed to be truthful.  My refusal to swear, however, has more to do with an unwillingness to arrogantly call upon God to vouch for my honesty than with any boast that my honesty is unquestionable.  To swear would be, as the commandment puts it "taking the Lord's name in vain".  

Comment by Paula Deming on 1st mo. 1, 2012 at 5:09pm

Oh, excellent, Rich! But I'm afraid to go down this path, and dissect our understanding of truth and integrity. This is the best I can do: 

If I believe at any moment that I am doing my utmost to tell the truth, but later I learn I was in error, does that mean my honesty is questionable? I often err in my supposed statements of fact, not because I am trying to be misleading but because my memory is flawed. I am still telling what I believe to be the truth. And this will not be altered in the least by whether I take an oath to tell the truth.

Comment by Paula Deming on 1st mo. 1, 2012 at 6:10pm

Thankfully, Karen, the Bible does not figure in American courts.   :)   Separation of Church & State.

Comment by Carl D. Williams on 1st mo. 1, 2012 at 6:35pm

Hi Paula,

When I was on jury duty a couple of years ago, I came armed with the passage and verse from Matthew;s Sermon on the Mount as I was comfortable with that.  As luck had it, the judge had taken testimony from my wife many times, and so the ground work had been laid and I didn't need to address anything in court or with the lawyers either but heard a nice non-Quaker explanation of the history of swearing and affirming.

Perhaps you might hold it as a small place to suffer for conscience sake and let the court have a field day with your standing firm.




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