Judicial Oaths

Judicial Oaths

Editorial. New Harmony Gazette, 3:4 (Oct. 31, 1827): 30. The editor reports the dismissal of witnesses for denying the doctrine of future rewards and punishments and remarks that “The expounders of our laws, however, apparently forgetful of the letter and the spirit of our constitution, and forming their decisions upon precedents drawn from the ages of Catholic intolerance and monkish bigotry, do venture, as we have seen, to interfere with the rights of conscience of our citizens, and require from a witness, who merely testifies to a matter of fact, a religious test, which the constitution itself expressly declares shall never be required even from those who preside at our courts of justice and are appointed guardians of the laws of our country.”

S. Letter to editor. New Harmony Gazette, 3:5 (Nov. 7, 1827): 38. Observing that the validity of judicial oaths is pending before the Court of Equity in South Carolina, the author comments, “There are thousands of persons in this state, believing in no future rewards and punishments; and among them a full share of wealth, talents, and respectability.   These cannot collect debts on book account; they cannot act as jurors, nor officers under the government; they can neither lend legal aid to protect others from fraud, nor protect themselves. In short, a decision against them would deprive them of the privileges of freemen . . . . Public functionaries may think it a light business, but should they decide against us, they may find it a more serious one than they are aware.”

Julian. “Future Punishment.” The Correspondent, 2:21 (Dec. 15, 1827): 321-24. The author reports the rejection of two witnesses in a Providence, Rhode Island court on account of their “disbelief in a future state of rewards and punishments.”

James W. Gazlay. “Constitutional Rights.” Western Tiller, 2:17-18 (Dec. 21-28, 1827). Gazlay reports the rejection of two witnesses in a Rhode Island court on account of their religious opinions. Gazlay then reviews the various oaths and affirmations administered to Quakers, Jews and Muslims and suggests that the only question that should be put to a prospective witness is “What form of oath or affirmation do you conceive binding? Not what form of belief do you profess- or we the court conceive binding.” Gazlay further contends that “a disbelief of the existence of a God cannot, of itself, disqualify a witness, provided he believes in a punishment.”

“Giving Testimony.” New Harmony Gazette, 3:15 (Jan. 23, 1828): 117-18. Under this heading, are featured Letters reprinted from the Christian Telescope (Providence) and Providence Patriot regarding Judge Joseph Story’s decision for the Circuit Court of the United States, held at Providence Rhode Island, to reject a witness who failed to believe in future rewards and punishments. In a letter addressed to the Clerk of the Circuit Court the authors rely on the first and tenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Rhode Island’s Act Relative to Religious Freedom to argue against Judge Story’s decision and add “In closing these remarks, permit us to say a few words to you concerning the belief of future punishment, which you consider indisputable to elicit truth from the witness. The amount of your reasoning is, that, in all probability the witness will swear falsely unless he should believe in future punishment. The conclusion then is, a belief in future punishment transforms a knave and presents him to the public an honest man! Ergo – all believers in future punishment are men of truth and honesty! How happens it then, that so many of them are found among the convicts of State Prisons?”

“Civil Rights of the Heterodox in Religion.” New Harmony Gazette, 3:23 (Apr. 2, 1828): 180. Featured under this title is an editorial from the Delaware Patriot which reports the rejection of a witness in a Connecticut court on account of a witnesses “atheistical principles” and then asks “And who is an Atheist that he should be outlawed and a mark set upon him: is he not a human being possessing civil and religious rights, as dear to him as ours are to us? And are they not sacred? Can any kind of opinions disenfranchise a man from those inestimable privileges, when it requires an overt act to constitute treason?”

Sceptic. “An Infidel Witness.” New Harmony Gazette, 3:47 (Sept. 17, 1828): 372. Called to court to give testimony in a case, the author reports the judge saying to him “you are, sir, in the most lamentable darkness of any poor wretch that bears the name of man. You are worse than a Mahometan or a Pagan or a cannibal; for we would take their oaths, but cannot take yours. You are worse than a devil; for the devils believe and tremble; and even their word, therefore claims confidence before yours. We have only, in your case, your earthly honor to depend upon; and that is but a rope of straw and a broken reed, which the law cannot recognize and will not trust. Your country is deprived of your evidence, and you yourself have forfeited one of the dearest rights of a freeman. Such, he added, turning to a crowd of spectators whom our dialogue had attracted around the bar, such are the lamentable consequences of infidelity. Not only does it deprive us of hope in another world, but of rights and privileges in this; not only do we make god a liar, but we render ourselves unfit to be trusted or believed.”

“Competency of Witnesses.” The Correspondent, 4:9 (Sept. 20, 1828): 139-40. Reprinted from the National Observer; featuring the remarks of Solomon Southwick on a Canandaigua court’s rejection of Mr. Edward Giddins as a witness on account of his religious opinions.

“Legality of Witnesses.” The Correspondent, 4:14 (Oct. 25, 1828): 230-33. This article features a letter from Edward Giddins, “which was read at a late trial in Ontario county, for conspiracy, and which the court held as sufficient evidence to authorize the rejection of Mr. G. as a witness.” Following Giddins’ letter are the editorial remarks of the National Observer concerning the statutory and common law basis of the court’s decision.

R.D.O. “Honesty.” The Free Enquirer, 1:7 (Dec. 10, 1828): 52-53. Commenting on the judicial oath in the courts, Owen concludes, “Let us seek worthier motives to action than [fear of eternal punishment]; let us look to a love of truth, to a spirit of conscientiousness, to a noble contempt of falsehood and deceit; and let us cultivate these in our children. When a man tenders his testimony, let us test our claim to his belief, not by his fears of another world, but by his life and conduct in this. For the orthodox test is inefficient to secure its object, and degrading, even though it did secure it.”

C. Schultz. “Judge Herttell’s Demurrer.” The Correspondent, 5:25 (July 11, 1829): 391-92. This article reviews Herttell’s work entitled “The Demurrer, or proofs of error in the decision of the Supreme Court of the state of New York, requiring faith in particular religious doctrines, as a qualification for witnesses; thence establishing by law a religious test, and religious creed.”

“Communications.” The Free Enquirer, 2:34 (June 19, 1830): 271-72. Junius reports Connecticut’s passage of a religious freedom bill which guarantees to “all persons who recognize a Supreme Being the right of testifying” and asks “Now if the “Supreme Being” conceals himself from his creatures, and gives them no evidence by which they can rationally believe in his existence, are such to be disenfranchised by their fellow men, and in a republic too which professes to acknowledge the equal rights of all?”

R.D.O. “Connecticut Religious Freedom Bill.” The Free Enquirer, 2:34 (June 19, 1830): 272. Owen recognizes that, “It is unfortunately the case that public bodies too often imagine they are leading public opinion, when, in fact, they are scarcely following it. . . . I venture the prediction, that next session the obnoxious proviso will be struck off, and the citizens of Connecticut will regain the constitutional rights which the timidity, or the carelessness, of their representatives, has, for the time being, lost to them.”

F.W. “New Fangled Doctrines.” The Free Enquirer, 2:35 (June 26, 1830): 278-79. Wright states, “We may indeed be told that such bills, and consequently, such unconstitutional “doctrines” as give rise to them are not new, and in proof thereof we may be directed to a certain ordinance of the Supreme Court of Pittsburgh declaring the Christian religion to constitute a part of the law of the land, or we may be shown some half dozen Sabbath protecting bills from as many legislatures, bankrupt in sense and honesty, or some score of corporation ordinances appointing certain officers styled marshals . . . “to enforce the due observance of the Sabbath”  . . . . But we must be bold to tell . . . . the amenders of Connecticut’s religious freedom bill that, for true orthodox doctrine, we go no farther and no less far back than the declaration of ’76: “All men” “are endowed with certain inalienable rights,” and that, among these, undoubtedly is that of professing any religion or no religion at all . . . . and all short of the same we do pronounce “new fangled,” treasonous, heterodox and of no account.”

“Disability of Witnesses.” The Working Man’s Advocate, 3:1 (Aug. 20, 1831): 2. In reporting the removal of a witness on account of his “want of belief in certain religious opinions,” the editor comments, “If men are to be deprived of their rights for their opinions, and without reference to their moral character, we say let us have an inquisition at once, to decide what opinions shall be tolerated; such an institution would be preferable to the mode of leaving such matters to the arbitrary decision of “his honor the presiding judge.””

“Outlawry for Unbelief.” The Working Man’s Advocate, 3:4 (Sept. 10, 1831): 3. This editorial denounces the rejection of a witness in the Courts of Chester County, Pennsylvania on account of a witness’s disbelief in orthodox religious opinion.

Competency of Witnesses.” The Boston Investigator, 127-28 (Aug. 30- Sept. 6, 1833). Kneeland reports how Thomas Burnham was disqualified as a witness on account of his religious opinions in the case of Commonwealth v. Lewis Bruce in Boston’s municipal court. The article includes excerpts from Spirit of the Periodical Press (Boston), Mercantile Journal (Boston) and the Morning Post (Boston), and Kneeland’s commentary.

“Right of Conscience.” The Free Enquirer, 3:8 (Dec. 18, 1830): 63-64. In introducing a letter from “An American Citizen,” originally published in the N.Y. Daily Sentinel concerning the rejection of a witness for refusing to kiss a bible and take an oath, Owen remarks, “What a contemptible and degrading idea the law must have of human nature! She can think of nothing to trust, to make men honest, but cowardice. Principle, it seems, she leaves altogether out of the calculation. A man’s heart must sink and his nerves must tremble; or she presupposes him a liar.”

“Tammany Hall.” The Free Enquirer, 5:18 (Feb. 23, 1833): 143-44. This article features Benjamin Offen’s remarks following the Maine legislature’s reporting of a bill intended to “secure to witnesses freedom of opinion in matters of religion.”

“Competency of a Witness.” The Free Enquirer, 5:47 (Sept. 14, 1833): 375. The author doubts “the right of any court to interfere, or to reject any man’s testimony because he cannot conscientiously say he believes in the God of this or that sect, as no two acknowledge the belief in one of the same character.”

Letter from Amos Garnsey. The Boston Investigator, 146 (Jan. 10, 1834): 1-2. Reprinted from the Statesman (Windsor, Vermont), Garnsey reports being prevented from testifying in a court of law on account of his disbelieve in the bible and the doctrine of future rewards and punishments.

“Legislature of New York.” The Mohawk Liberal, 1:35-36 (Jan. 23-30, 1834). The editor reports on a debate in the New York House of Representatives regarding a bill “providing that no person shall be incompetent as a witness on account of his religious opinions.”

Rights and Competency of Witnesses. Speech of Mr. Herttell.” The Free Enquirer, 2:20-26 (May 17-June 21, 1835): 156-57, 167, 173, 181-82, 188-90, 198-99, 205-06. A speech delivered in the New York Assembly. Herttell spoke on the following bill which he submitted” “No person shall be deemed incompetent as a witness in any court, matter or proceeding, on account of his or her opinions on the subject of religion; nor shall any witness be questioned, nor any testimony be taken or received, in relation thereto, either before or after such witness shall have been sworn.”[1]

“Competency of a Witness.” The Boston Investigator, 222 (June 26, 1835): 2-3. Featured here is an article entitled “An Atheist,” reprinted from the Atlas, in which an inferior court judge in Essex county, after hearing the testimony of more than a half dozen witnesses regarding the religious opinions of Enoch Winkley, refused to admit Winkley as a witness because of his disbelieve in a “Supreme intelligent Being, who govern all events.”

“Judicial Oaths.” Temple of Reason, 1:9 (July 4, 1835): 65. The editor recalls how Enoch Winkley was deemed incompetent as a witness in a court in Salem Massachusetts “on account of his disbelief in the true god, and a future life.”

“Disqualification of Witnesses.” The Boston Investigator, 256 (Feb. 19, 1836): 1. Here featured is Rev. Thomas Whittmore’s remarks on a bill abolishing the disqualification of witnesses on account of their religious opinions. Whittemore observes, “There is a great inconsistency in our courts of justice, which we ought no longer permit. Men are now sometimes called upon to testify in regard to their own religious opinions. The courts are obliged to believe them, in order to say they are not worthy to be believed. This has been repeatedly done. They ask a man if he is an atheist. He says he is. They believe him; and then, because he has told the truth, they declare they can put no confidence in what he says. Is their propriety in this custom of the courts?”

“Competency of Witnesses.” Cleveland Liberalist, 2:25 (Mar. 10, 1838): 196-97. Under this heading appear the remarks of Senator Barry, delivered February 7, 1838, in favor of a bill’s provision which read “no person shall be disqualified from giving evidence, under affirmation, on account of his opinions respecting the subject of religion.” Reprinted from the Detroit Daily Free Press.

S.U. “Petition to the Legislature of the State of Ohio, on the Subject of Religious Tests.” Cleveland Liberalist, 3:4 (Oct. 27, 1838): 27.

“More Court Bigotry and Intolerance.” The Boston Investigator, 435 (July 24, 1839): 3. The author comments on the disqualification of a witness on account of his atheism by Judge Wilkins of the U.S. Court in Detroit.

“The Witness Bill.” The Boston Investigator, 468 (Mar. 11, 1840): 3. The witness bill sought to prohibit the disqualification of witnesses and jurors on account of their infidelity.  Although the bill was voted down, the author optimistically stated, “Not many sessions will elapse, before this will be effected- before the day will arrive when the credibility of a witness will be determined by the only correct standard, his character and conduct; and not by that absurd criterion, his belief, over which he cannot possibly have control.”

“Mr. [Nathaniel] Hinckley’s Report.” The Boston Investigator, 470 (Mar. 25, 1840): 1. Hinckley served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The report concludes that Massachusetts’ laws which permit the religious beliefs of witnesses to be inquired into, and prohibit unbelievers from testifying in court, is, inter alia, unconstitutional, engenders hypocrisy, and excludes none except the honest from testifying.

“Religious Disqualifications. Mr. [Nathaniel] Hinckley’s Report.” The Beacon (New Series), 1:20 (Apr. 4, 1840): 155-59. This is a special committee report from the Massachusetts House of representatives which examines various petitions and memorials relating to the competency of jurors and witnesses.

“Believers’ Privileges.” The Beacon (New Series), 2:1 (Nov. 21, 1840): 4-5. The author points out, “The fact is, a man who believes in future punishments, may gamble, drink, defraud, and oppress, and his testimony be admitted in a court of judicature; while a man who cannot believe in future punishment, yet is honest and virtuous, must not have justice and the benefit of the law.”

“Witness Law.” The Boston Investigator, 560 (Feb. 9, 1842): 2. Reporting that a proposed bill in the Massachusetts Congress provides, “that the testimony of no person be rejected from our Courts of Justice, on account of his sentiments on the subject of religion . . . . unless those sentiments involve a disbelief in the existence of a God.” The author playfully remarks, “Since it is not required that the witness should be a worshiper, but simply a believer in a God, the veriest atheist may be admitted, for every atheist believes in the existence of a God. Every atheist believes in the existence of the Sun  which is a God of the Persians, and of Fire, which is another God of the same people. He is, therefore, a believer in a God.”

“Oaths.” The Beacon (4th Series), 1:6 (Jan. 31, 1846): 46. Reprinted from the Sun, reports Judge Ulshoeffer of the Court of common pleas who was asked to decide whether a witness was competent to testify in the case of Alex McCrum v Francis Hewitt, the judge stated, “From the evidence against the witness it seems that he disclaims believe in the Bible or a hell, yet if he believes in God and punishment for false swearing in this life, he is a competent witness. The witness also evidently disbelieves in Christianity, still he may be competent, as has been often held.”

“Competency of Atheists as Witnesses.” The Boston Investigator, 794-95 (Aug. 12-19, 1846). Reprint of a debate which occurred in Maine’s House of Representatives, July 28, 1846. The bill under consideration “provides that persons who disbelieve in the existence of a Supreme Being, may be competent as witnesses, and that when testifying they shall affirm. But the fact of their disbelief may be shown as affecting their credibility.”

“Atheists. Competency of Atheists as Witnesses.” The Boston Investigator, 794 (Aug. 12, 1846): 3. The editor exclaims, “It is utter absurdity that a man, honest and virtuous, should be debarred from giving evidence, and deprived of his rights, because he does not profess to believe what he cannot comprehend; while the wretch who pretends to believe in a future state of damnation, fire, and brimstone, is privileged to exercise it without question!”

Montgarnier. “Honor to Maine.” The Boston Investigator, 853 (Sept. 29, 1847): 1. Montgarnier commends Maine for adopting the following witness law: “No person shall be deemed an incompetent witness on account of his or her religious professions or opinions, but shall be subject to the test of credibility; and any person who shall not believe in the existence of a Supreme Being shall be permitted to testify under solemn affirmation, and shall be subject to all the pains and penalties of perjury.”

“Law.” The Regenerator, 94 (Nov. 15, 1847): 241-43. Murray provides a detailed narrative of a court’s inquiry into his competency to testify as a witness based on his religious opinions. Murray concludes that “A man may be honest- fulfill all the requisitions of good neighborhood- have the confidence of all his neighbors, as being practically upright, humane and peaceful. All this goes for nothing in the estimation of law and religion, if he cannot believe everything dictated to him, irrespective of evidence- or if he be honest enough to avow his convictions in full fidelity to evidence forced into his sight.”

“Testimony Rejected.” The Regenerator, 95 (Nov. 29, 1847): 257-58. This article features a report on Murray’s rejection as a witness from a Court of Common Pleas in Cincinnati, Ohio, reprinted from the Chronotype, and is followed by Murray’s comments which supply additional details about the proceedings.

Park Godwin. “Orson Murray and the Courts.” The Regenerator, 96 (Dec. 13, 1847): 273-75. Reprinted from the Harbinger. Godwin testifies that “Mr. Murray has a very peculiar cast of mind; he is literal and unimaginative to the last degree of rigidity. He will take nothing whatever for granted, and trusts to no evidence but the evidences of the senses; his religious nature seems to have been burnt out by the fires of Calvinism, into which he ventured too far, but we believe him to be wholly incapable of uttering an untruth.” Responding to some of the Harbinger’s misinformation, Murray details his past experiences as a man of religion.

“Incompetency of Witnesses.” The Regenerator, 97 (Dec. 27, 1847): 289-91. Reprinted here are two editorials, one from the Cincinnati Morning Herald and the other from the Herald of Truth, which comment on the rejection of Murray as a witness on grounds of his infidelity. The editor of the Herald of Truth remarks, “How would I feel, were the scales turned, and Atheists should deny me the right to act as a man, because I believed in the common conceptions of a God, a future life, &c.? Why, I would say to him – Come, destroy my property, take the bread from my children’s mouths, desolate my hearth, and burn my house; but do not so outrage my nature, and the feelings of my wife, relatives, and friends, as to deny my manhood!”

Edward Livingston. “Religious Tests of Witnesses.” Age of Reason, 2:32 (May 13, 1849): 148-49. Reprinted from System of Penal Law for the State of Louisiana, Livingston argues in favor of allowing atheist to testify in court proceedings.

John Appleton. “Judicial Oaths” The Regenerator, 139 (Apr. 1850): 168-71. Reprinted from the Massachusetts Quarterly Review.

Vindex. “Law, Justice vs. Superstition.” The Boston Investigator, 1052 (July 23, 1851): 2. The author reports how a married couple (Mr. and Mrs. Thayer) were denied the right to testify against an alleged rapist in a police court in Lowell, Massachusetts on account of their disbelieve in the existence of God.

“Most Shameful Injustice.” The Boston Investigator, 1052 (July 23, 1851): 3. The editor comments, “So it seems the Law allows or permits Christians to debauch an atheist’s wife! They can take advantage of his absence, render her by mesmerism insensible, and then effect their purpose; and when the injured husband goes into Court for justice, the Law virtually tells him he can have no redress because he has no religious faith!!”

“Judicial Testimony. The Recent Case at Lowell.” The Boston Investigator, 1054 (Aug. 6, 1851): 4. Reprinted from the Philadelphia Ledger. The author remarks, “These witnesses did not believe in a God. What then? What concern should that have in the administration of human laws? They have persons, property, and character to protect, and have the same moral right to protection for each and all such rights, as any other persons of the same community, whether they believe in one God or twenty gods.”

“Law in Massachusetts.” The Boston Investigator, 1055 (Aug. 13, 1851): 4. Reprinted from the Philadelphia Ledger. The author asks, “Are the days of witches revived in Massachusetts? Do the rancor and presumption of Cotton Mather about things beyond human settlement, still preside in its courts? Still govern its legislation and jurisprudence?”

G.V. “Human and Constitutional Rights.” Vale’s Citizen of the World, 1:33 (Aug. 17, 1851): 329. Vale remarks, “The judge who covered a crime by refusing the testimony of the injured party because they were Atheists should be hunted from the bench; legally tormented by the Press, and kicked out of decent society.”

John W. Le Barnes. “The Law of Evidence.” The Boston Investigator, 1100 (June 23, 1852): 1. Agitating for the repeal of the laws of Massachusetts which disqualify witnesses on account of their religious opinions, Le Barnes observes, “Public sentiment readily enough asserts its will in defending every man’s right to believe in any religious faith which seems comfortable to his conscience. It has yet to rise above the dominant bigotry of the State, and to assert the equally “inalienable right” of every man to disbelieve whatever religious faith seems uncomfortable to his reason. We have yet to learn that the right to believe, implies the right to doubt; and that Faith is the least, and Scepticism the first of religious virtues.”

John W. Le Barnes. “Appeal to the Public.” The Boston Investigator, 1101 (June 30, 1852): 1. Reprinted from the Boston Herald. Le Barnes recounts his experience being rejected as a witness by a grand jury on account of his infidelity, and recalls the foreman stating that “a person who held such opinions could not be supposed to possess any integrity, or to have any ideas of truth or justice, or to retain any sense of moral duty whatever.”

“Testimony of an Atheist Refused.” The Boston Investigator, 1103 (July 14, 1852): 2. The editor comments on judge Sprague, of the U.S. Circuit Court in Boston, who refused to allow Walter Hunt, a professed atheist, to testify as a witness in a sewing machine patent case.

“The Law Against Infidel Witnesses.” The Boston Investigator, 1133 (Feb. 9, 1853): 2. The editor reports that in the court of common pleas in Worcester County, Massachusetts, a judgment was entered in favor of a defendant accused of manslaughter when the dying declaration of the deceased was excluded on account of his disbelief in God. The editor asks, “was there ever anything more palpably absurd and cruelly unjust? It says, virtually, to Christians, “Do as you please with Infidels – their testimony against you is good for nothing in the eye of the court; and even if you murder them, it can be done with impunity, for killing an infidel is no murder!”

John Porter. “Massachusetts Test Law” The Boston Investigator, 1139 (Mar. 23, 1853): 1. Porter begins, “Another of the almost daily instances of the beauties of the Massachusetts’ test law occurred here in Springfield this winter. A Mr. Ashley, farmer, had his barn burnt by an incendiary. The person suspected was arrested and brought before Judge Hooker, of this city, but acquitted because the principal witness against him had opinions on religious subjects not coinciding with the somewhat obsolete notions of our great grandmothers and fathers who framed this law during the same epoch that they whipped Quaker women and hung their neighbors for witchcraft.”

“Religious Tests.” The Boston Investigator, 1139 (Mar. 23, 1853): 2. Calling for the abolition of religious tests in Massachusetts, the editor observes, “this prohibition of a religious test in the Constitution of the United States, must or ought to be imitated by the Constitutions of all the individual states, because the former Constitution is paramount, and as that prohibits a religious test, it is unconstitutional for a state to adopt it.”

“Testimony of Atheists.” The Regenerator, 170 (May 1853): 278. Reprinted from the Cincinnati Nonpareil, the author reports that Judge Sprague of the U.S. Circuit Court disallowed Walter Hunt of New York from testifying on account of his atheism. The author opines “Here we have the strange spectacle of a judicial tyrant placing implicit confidence in the everyday conversation of an atheist, while declaring him utterly unworthy of belief when placed upon his oath! And this in a country where freedom of opinion is tolerated and liberty of conscience is guaranteed, without persecution or proscription of any kind! Was ever a more contemptible thing perpetrated in a free country of civilized people.”

“Incompetent as a Witness.” The Boston Investigator, 1155 (July 13, 1853): 2. The editor reports how Mr. A.D. Brown’s suit against H.S. Salsbury filed in a Pennsylvania court for a debt owed was thrown out of court when it was discovered that Brown did not believe in the doctrine of future rewards and punishments.

G.W.S. “The Sectarian Test Law in Massachusetts.” The Boston Investigator, 1223, 1225, 1227, 1231, 1234, 1239, 1242, 1249-50 (Nov. 1, 15, 29, Dec. 27, 1854; Jan. 17, Feb. 21, Mar. 14, May 2-9, 1855). The author briefly surveys the origin, operation, and reasons given for the law.

“Competency of Witnesses – A Liberal Triumph.” The Boston Investigator, 1344 (Feb. 25, 1857): 2. The editor reports on the Massachusetts House of Representatives voting 209 to 95 in favor of permitting atheists to testify in court. At the same time, the editors express grave concern that the bill reported from the Judiciary Committee included a section that reads: Evidence of disbelief in the existence of a God may be received to affect the credibility, but not the competency, of anyone testifying.” The editor then asks, “Would it be just to test the credibility of a Christian by his religion? No; and if not a Christian, then not an Atheist, for his irreligion.” The editor concludes, “let [credibility] always rest upon the character of the witness for truth and veracity, and never upon his religion or the want of it.”

Jeremiah Arnold. “Experience of a Liberalist.” The Boston Investigator, 1351 (Apr. 15, 1857): 1. Recalling the Vermont Supreme Court’s affirmation of a probate court’s decision to disallow his testimony on grounds of his infidelity, Arnold writes, “The Court and the party deemed me an instrument of hell, depriving me the rights of a citizen, the right to be plaintiff or defendant, a witness or a voter, or the right to hold an office, and made me a prey to thieves, robbers, and even murderers, as I could not obtain a warrant for the apprehension of either.”[2]

“Disqualification of a Witness.” The Boston Investigator, 1385 (Dec. 9, 1857): 2. The editor reports that in the case of Massachusetts v. James Tuttle, for assault and battery upon a boy, the complainant, W.H. Gray was disqualified on grounds of his disbelief in a personal God.

“Debate on the Witness Bill.” and “Competency of Witnesses.” The Boston Investigator, 1445 (Feb. 2, 1859): 2. In these two articles the editor reports that for over a quarter century infidels and atheists have been attempting to gain the right to testify in a court of justice. The editor laments that recent proposed legislation has included the following provision, “Evidence of his disbelief in the existence of God may be received to affect the credibility of any person testifying” and asserts that, “if the credibility of a witness can be destroyed or even impaired by his opinions on religion, it virtually amounts to his rejection on account of his opinions. This matter will never be correctly adjusted, until Infidels and Atheists are allowed precisely the same legal rights as Christians.”

“Law and Justice.” The Boston Investigator, 1508 (Apr. 18, 1860): 413. The editor reports a case in the Police Court of Cambridge, in which William Whitten, a saloon owner, who caught two boys in the act of robbing his business, was disqualified as a witness on grounds of his “positive disbelief in a superintending Providence.”

“A Bigoted Judge.” The Boston Investigator, 1665 (May 13, 1863): 5. The article features an excerpt from the Washington Star which reports how G.P. Fisher, judge of the Criminal Court of Washington, refused to consider the testimony of William P. Wood on the grounds that Wood admitted to not believing in a personal existence after this life. The article also includes a letter from Wood to Judge Fisher.


[1] Also published in The Boston Investigator, 220-226 (June 12- July 24, 1835); and The Temple of Reason, 1:7-9, 11-14 (June 20- July 4, 18- Aug. 8, 1835): 52-54, 60-61, 69-71, 85-86, 94-95, 103.

[2] See, Arnold v. Arnold’s Estate, 13 Vt. 362 (1841).