Oath to uphold marriage is personal; Knowles didn’t swear it for anybody else

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Bill Knowles, county clerk, standing by his wife Marlene, is Hamilton County's longest-service official. (Photo Chattanoogan.com)

Bill Knowles, county clerk, standing by his wife, Marlene, is Hamilton County’s longest-serving official. (Photo Chattanoogan.com)

By David Tulis

The appeal Christians must make to lesser magistrates in times of growing tyranny should include the power of the oath of office.

Oathtaking today is much watered down, and “affirmations” are accepted. An affirmation is hardly an oath, because the guarantor for upholding it is the officiant himself. The office taker swears, effectively, on his own name.

But often people taking office swear on the holy Bible they will uphold the law, the federal constitution and their state constitution – so help them God.

An oath signifies the speaker is aware of an obligation to tell the truth, whether in a courtroom trial or taking public office. Oaths are “calculated to awaken the witness’s conscience and impress the witness’s mind with the duty to do so,” says one authority (D.T. McCall & Sons v. Seagraves, 796 S.W.2d 457 [Tenn. Ct. App. 1990]).

If taken falsely, the party is guilty of perjury. Oaths are condemned by Christians in the Anabaptist tradition. Their lawfulness in Christendom is upheld by such summaries of religion as the Westminster Confession of Faith. The form of taking an oath is not essential, and in Tennessee the law requiring an uplifted hand was seen merely as directory (advisory), allowing the oath-taker to put his hand directly on the scriptures, instead. Variation of form does not affect “its obligatory character,” says a legal authority for Tennessee.

In the flesh

An oath of office cannot be made by anybody else on behalf of the clerk or probate judge. He makes the oath himself, for it is personal.

Hundreds of court clerks around the country have yielded to helping federal courts redefine marriage, despite their state constitutions that declare marriage is between one man and one woman.

It is a disturbing prospect for county clerks in Tennessee, such as Bill Knowles of Hamilton County. If he believes his promise is true, if he intends to not be separated from his promise by a form of judicial levitation, if he intends to stand for God’s truth and the foundation of human capital that is marriage – he will take comfort in the idea that he is personally responsible for obeying the law that he swore to uphold, come what may from a whited sepulcher in Washington, D.C.

Sources: The Westminster Confession of Faith, in chapter 22, says of the oath: A lawful oath is part of religious worship, wherein, upon just occasion, the person swearing solemnly calls God to witness what he asserts, or promises, and to judge him according to the truth or falsehood of what he swears. II. The name of God only is that by which men ought to swear, and therein it is to be used with all holy fear and reverence. Therefore, to swear vainly, or rashly, by that glorious and dreadful Name; or, to swear at all by any other thing, is sinful, and to be abhorred. Yet, as in matters of weight and moment, an oath is warranted by the Word of God, under the New Testament as well as under the old; so a lawful oath, being imposed by lawful authority, in such matters, ought to be taken. III. Whosoever takes an oath ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act, and therein to avouch nothing but what he is fully persuaded is the truth: neither may any man bind himself by oath to any thing but what is good and just, and what he believes so to be, and what he is able and resolved to perform. Yet it is a sin to refuse an oath touching any thing that is good and just, being imposed by lawful authority. (http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/)

Oath, Tennessee Jurisprudence, Vol. 20

Chattanoogan: Bill Knowles Moved From Barber To County’s Longest-Serving Official, Chattanoogan.com, Oct. 14, 2014

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