Sunday, July 20, 2008

I'm an Athiest, So Help Me God

America's Courts have a fundamental flaw that virtually guarantees bias against Atheists.

Not long ago, I was swindled by a thief who was selling stuff and not delivering. My wife is quite the internet sleuth, and managed to track the guy down, and we hauled his ass into Small Claims Court.

When you get to the courtroom, the first thing the bailiff does is to ask all the parties to sit down and see if they can reach an agreement without the judge. A lot of times people know they're in the wrong and will settle rather than face the judge. In our case, it was instantly apparent that our opponent was a total snake, one of those guys who lies even when there's no reason to. He said things to me that he knew were false, and I knew were false, and that he knew that I knew were false! And he did it with a straight face.

The worst-case scenario for a judge is when there is no concrete evidence – no contract, no receipt, no emails, just a handshake, and the two parties with the opposite version of what that handshake meant. Plainly one or the other is lying, but which one? The judge has to simply guess, based on intuition, reputation, looks, and whether one of the parties' story has the "ring of truth." I didn't envy the judge.

As I watched the judge settle a couple of cases, my hopes rose. He was pretty good. He found sensible compromises, he spotted holes on peoples' stories, and he seemed to have a good sense of fairness and justice. But when my turn came, I suddenly realized I had a big problem.

The bailiff called our case. We walked forward, and the judge said, "Raise your right hands. Do you swear that the evidence you are going to present this Court is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" I was like a deer caught in the headlights. In an instant, a hundred stories and statistics were spinning through my head. Atheists are America's least-trusted group according to many surveys. Atheists don't deserve the rights of citizenship according to President Bush (the elder). Separation of Church and State was invented by the Devil according to Rev. Jerry Falwell and his flock.

Unfortunately, I have this flaw that may kill me some day: I'm honest. "Your honor, I'm an Atheist." This pretty much stopped everything. The Court's clerk, who had been chatting quietly with the bailiff, stopped mid-sentence and looked up. Various other plaintiffs and defendants, who had been reading, whispering amongst themselves, or dozing, were suddenly paying attention. Even the judge's normal composed, scholarly demeanor was momentarily lost.

The defendant, my lying opponent, quickly jumped in, and in a very loud voice, said, "I swear, so help me God." The Judge regained his composure, and turned to me. "Do you swear that the evidence you are going to present this Court is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" And he sort of stopped with an awkward pause, the sentence seemingly incomplete. I could only fill in the silence with a firm, "I do."

I lost the case. The liar lied to the judge, and I told the truth, and the liar got away with my money. Was it because I'm an Atheist? I'll never know. I believe that the Judge, a man who has dedicated his life to the study of law, and to the principles of fairness and justice, was able to put aside his prejudices. I believe that his decision was wrong simply because my opponent was such a good liar. But ... sometimes I wonder.

And I also wonder why, over two hundred years after this country established a wall of separation between church and state, a citizen who happens to be an atheist has to be "outed," to declare his/her religious beliefs, before being heard by the Court.


  1. As sad as it is that you lost the case and the money, it's an excellent example to point to when asked about whether atheists have morals. Your thief, whether Christian or not, was willing to lie, cheat, and steal in the courtroom for personal gain. Taking the moral high ground (may have)lost the case. Hopefully you're not out too much money.

  2. IINM Quakers had a somewhat similar problem with their aversion to oaths of any sort. Perhaps atheists should check exactly what Quakers have tried doing about that. Something about merely saying 'I affirm'IIRC.

  3. All things considered, you appeared to be the liar. If both men looked at me and told me different story's I would be forced to choose the one who cannot say "I swear to tell the truth so help me god."

    Ergo, the court system is biased. Not much, but when presented with a tie it is enough to tip the scale.


  4. .. As a Normal Person with NO drug addiction, NO religious addiction, NO homosexuality addiction, NO couch potato (sloth) addiction, NO obesity addiction, NO greed addiction (Pres. Bush Jr.) and no other mental illnesses, I have faced this problem of discrimination all my life! Fired from jobs when I told the boss(s) that I wasn't interested in having their religions/addictions forced on me, or when I didn't share the addictions of my co-workers. I once had a whacked out pyromaniac mentally ill religious person who had gotten off their medications threaten me and the police with a fiery death ("purify you with fire")removed from my home and headed toward Rescue Crisis, only to have that person while in the police car tell the police I was an atheist, whereupon she was brought back into my home and I was arrested and taken away! After I told those police I would sue them if that person burned my home down while we were gone, one of them then went back in and took that person to Rescue Crisis... All I wanted in the first place for that person... But I had to be arrested, jailed, and fined, first... for being honest... and asserting my rights... And, of course, this stuff is almost impossible to prove in court... In one case I filed a complaint with the Civil Rights people, but I discovered that went NOWHERE fast with Bush Jr. as president!

    .... The clergy make their living by LYING... The bible is a pack of lies... put your hand on a bible and swear to tell the truth...? Oxymoron? Fortunately, this city is heavily Democratic, so in court they don't add 'so help me god' to oaths around here... I've only seen it done on TV and in movies...

  5. .. Not sure why it called me anonymous, it asked me for another word verification and changed things... I'm ,

  6. i recently had money stolen from me via an internet seller. would you be able to help in any way?

  7. You heathen! Of course you lost the case! God made sure you did!

  8. i know this is an old post, but tell me something Craig; do you condom those militant atheism comments from buzzLOL. it most be so easy for you to pick on the religious extremest. but when a guy says stuff like buzzlol here, you seem to keep your mouth shut. now, i dont mean here and now, i mean in general. this one guy makes comments and you really shouldnt get involved but i havent seen any posts of you ever acknowledging the militant atheism some people have. granted i havent read your book yet, and i didnt really look to hard here. but surely you can at least recognize the militant atheism is just as bad as religious extremest.

  9. Isaac -- I don't comment very much on responses to my blog because I don't want to stifle the conversation. But sometimes I do enjoy debating someone, and if a religious person makes religious claims in my blog, especially ones that I find immoral or that espouse intolerance, I usually respond to those.

    As to buzzlol, I don't see why you singled him out. He told a story of blatant persecution of an atheist by the police, and ended it with a "rant" about his view of the Bible and religion. You have no idea the discrimination that atheists face in this Christian-dominated country. That was the point of the blog itself: that we can't get equal treatment under the law. In my case, it was a courtroom, and for buzzlol, it was the much more frightening case of being arrested and handcuffed by the police merely for being an atheist. Is it any surprise that he's angry?

    Is it "militant" for buzzlol to say the Bible is full of "lies"? The Bible has thousands of contradictions, thousands, things where it says two things that both can't be true. Are they lies or errors? Buzzlol has his opinion, I have mine, and you have yours.

  10. yes, well your story made sense but buzzlol seemed to be either, telling a complete lie, over blown exaggeration, not sharing actions he may have left out. and yes, his little rant was way to militant for my liking, not knowing and lying are to different things, and the way he expressed it was very disrespectful and most definitely militant. and as i said before, can you at least recognize that militant atheist are as bad as religious extremest.

    and this dibattista guy is an obvious troll.


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