There’s trouble brewing with our court system. In England, the Magistrates’ Association will later this month debate scrapping the traditional religious oath in criminal trials. If the change is approved by the organisation, its influential policy committee will submit a plan for change to the Ministry of Justice.
Currently all trial witnesses take the oath by raising a hand and repeating after the judge the words: ‘I swear by Almighty God that I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.’ Rules allow for the oath to be taken with reference to the Koran for Muslims, the Old Testament for Jewish witnesses, and without any reference to sacred texts for the non-religious.
Those who favour scrapping the traditional religious oath argue that many individuals giving evidence in criminal trials today no longer take it seriously. A new oath would still compel witnesses and defendants to promise to tell the truth but with no reference to God. Instead they would have to acknowledge that they could serve a term of imprisonment for giving false testimony. Supporters say that the new oath would be fairer. Witnesses and defendants would have a clear understanding of the importance of what they are undertaking.
The proposed new oath would 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.’
While this might look like an entirely sensible proposal to some, there are strong dissenting voices from some church leaders who argue that the change will further erode Britain’s Christian heritage.
Writing in the Mail Online, Nick Constable and Martin Beckford say that senior figures in the Church of England see the move as, ‘another attempt to chip away at the country’s Christian foundations.’ They quote the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester who says: ‘This could be the slippery slope towards the increasing secularisation of society. Where will it end – with the Coronation Oath? 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. But we are being urged, in the name of tolerance and secularisation, to restrict that choice.’
As a born again Christian I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed by Michael Nazir-Ali. However, perhaps all church leaders should examine why our legal system is having to adapt itself to the rising tide of secularism.
From where I sit the answer is clear. The Church has for decades, manifestly failed to take the message of salvation to the ordinary citizens of Britain in a meaningful and relevant manner. So rather than whingeing on about ‘rising tides of multiculturalism and secularism’, perhaps Christian leaders at all levels should repent and start to carry out the Great Commission, given to the Church by Jesus himself. This would undoubtedly strengthen rather than erode our Christian heritage.
It’s not too late, but the clock is ticking!!!