Posted by: Ken Brown | February 1, 2008

Swear No Oaths?

I’ve never known what to make of Matthew 5:33-37, in which Jesus forbids the taking of oaths. Frankly, I’ve never made any attempt to follow it literally, nor am I willing to give up my US citizenship to do so (mea cupla?). Given the generally hyperbolic nature of the Sermon on the Mount, I’ve been content to take it as a warning rather than a command.

That said, I do understand the danger of rash oaths and the importance of standing by your word. Because of this, I’m faced with a quandary. My state’s constitution was recently changed so that voting in the Presidential primary requires you to sign an oath to either the Democratic or Republican party. According to the ballot, your vote is invalid unless you mark either “I declare that I consider myself to be a DEMOCRAT and I will not participate in the nomination process of any other political party for the 2008 Presidential election” or “I declare that I am a member of the Republican Party and have not participated and will not participate in the 2008 precinct caucus or convention system of any other party.”

Now I don’t consider myself a Democrat or a Republican, nor am I absolutely certain that I will vote the same way in the general election as I would now–it all depends on who become the nominees! I do, however, know who I want to vote for in the primary (sorry, I wont say who), so do I swollow my pride (and independence, and perhaps honesty) and check the party to which they belong, or am I barred from voting? Am I crazy, or have they really made it illegal for an Independent to vote honestly?

I realize this is not the end of the world–at least we have free elections at all, right?–but it really bothers me. Has anyone else struggled with this?

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Responses

  1. I think it depends on how much weight you want to put on semantics.

    For example you could take a stock assessment of your political beliefs at ‘this point in time’ and say at this point in time I am a Democrat… it’s about what is not said (…later I may be a Republican).

    I mean if you wanted to get legalistic this would be how I would see it.

    However perhaps elsewhere on the document this is specifying that it relates (only) to the 2008 primaries and not for life?

    With regards to oaths in general. I’m a British citizen by birthright, I’ve never had to swear an alliegence to the Queen or the government, but I know that those wanting to become citizens do… What does that mean?

    It seems that today more than ever oaths are losing their meaning and their consequence as governments and private organisations frequently misapply them.

    Take for example TSA regulations that ask all foreigners if they are going to commit a crime when they visit- who answers “yes” to that?!

    I guarantee you’ve probably broken at least a dozen oaths that you digitally signed regarding software you have installed on your system. Software EULAs – the biggest bunch of crap to ever be produced by lawyers. Did you know a lot of software EULAs require you do not install any other software on your computer?

    Oaths tend to be treated like passwords these days- something to be said to get you access to somewhere/something, when there is no real control over whether you obey it.

  2. LOL, you’re right about EULAs; who reads those anyway? We’ll gladly sign off on just about anything if it’s required for something we want, but maybe that’s the point: we are way too flippant with our word, and I hate to just perpetuate that. Plus, it feels like they have crossed a line when they wont even let you vote without signing an “OATH” to a particular party (the word is actually on the ballot, twice). And the parties do treat them that way. Guarranteed, I’ll be getting political junk from whichever party I choose.

    Sigh, “the lesser of two evils” I guess… at least in this case I’m signing for something worthwhile (my civil duty), and not just another piece of junk software! 😉

  3. You seem to be forgetting that the primaries belong to the parties.

  4. No, Ilion, I’m not forgetting, I’m lamenting. Until recently, my state had a blanket primary that allowed you to vote for anyone, regardless of affiliation. The major parties believed this gave too much freedom to the voter (!), and convinced the Supreme Court to declare it unconstitutional.


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