Last week I posted about the Royal Oath of Allegiance and why it needs replacing. The post proved popular and I thought another look at some other issues surrounding royal oaths was useful. Firstly, it is worth reminding ourselves of what an oath entails, especially for young people who are encountering such things for the first time. Essentially an oath requires the individual to possess the ability to make and keep a promise and to understand what it means in terms of personal integrity to break that promise. Psychologists actually regard it as one of the highest moral achievements in a young adult. It means that the individual understands that the promise made in an oath is offered seriously, to be taken at face value and to clearly understand the distinction from other sorts of promises which may be only a polite gesture (we’ll keep in touch when the holiday is over!!), not necessarily to be taken earnestly.
The Alternatives to a Royal Oath
In my previous post I highlighted the issue of MPs being forced to take the oath of allegiance. It has often been noted that in the Parliamentary oath there is no swearing to the democratic principle or upholding the traditions of the institution. But down the years there have been suggestions for a more suitable replacement. I particularly like this one by Tony Benn in 1988:
I, Firstname Lastname, Do swear by Almighty God (or Solemnly declare and affirm) That I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the peoples of the United Kingdom, according to their respective laws and customs; preserving inviolably their civil liberties and democratic rights of self government, through their elected representatives in the House of Commons, and will faithfully and truly declare my mind and opinion on all matters that come before me without fear or favour.
What About The Queen?
So what about the monarch, what do they swear? The actual oath is in the form of answers to a questions put by the Archbishop of Canterbury, itself a problematic issue for people of other faiths and denominations or no faith. Here is the interaction from the 1952 Coronation of Elizabeth Windsor:
Archbishop: Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon, and of your Possessions and the other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs?
Queen: I solemnly promise so to do.
Archbishop: Will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgements?
Queen: I will.
Archbishop: Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?
Queen: All this I promise to do.
This oath is unacceptable for a number of reasons. Firstly the monarch themselves do not utter the words. Particularly the last response (All this I promise to do) sounds almost like a ‘Yeah, whatever, just get on with it’! There is no commitment to us the people. It is insufferably overbearing and autocratic using the language of governing rather than service to a nation. Then there is the promise to protect the rights of Church Bishops. There is nothing about conflict resolution. For example which would take precedence; a democratically elected Government removing unelected Church of England Bishops from the Lords (our laws and customs) or a commitment to their maintenance (protecting the rights and privileges of unaccountable Bishops)? There is talk of changing this oath before the next coronation (assuming there is one!), but it needs replacing not changing.
A Canadian Compromise
Interestingly the Australians have replaced their oath of allegiance to one relevant to the Australian people. But the Canadians are not so lucky and labour under a similar set of iniquities as ourselves. Nevertheless. new Canadian citizens have fund a way around the problem of the oath. Just as in Britain, apologists have claimed that the oath is symbolic of an adherence to a form of government rather than to the particular circumstance or individual. But, understandably this was unacceptable to Canadians who raised various objections including:
- That it infringed on the new citizens freedom of expression (to call for a Republic)
- It infringed freedom of religion (swearing to the Supreme Governor of the Church of England)
- It infringed freedom of conscience and equality rights as well as the issue raised in my previous blog regarding making an oath to an individual and their descendants irrespective of whether they become monarch or not.
Basing their actions on an Ontario Court of Appeal judgement in 2014 some newly naturalized Canadians now take the oath of allegiance and then publicly recant part of it – an ingenious though unsatisfactory compromise. As the Guardian newspaper reports, this has now become a standard way of dealing with the issue and in no way causes a problem with their citizenship. But it means people are forced to make a statement, knowing it to be false and knowing that they will publicly recant it at the earliest opportunity (remember my opening paragraph on the moral imperative of oaths). So allegiance to Monarchy is making Canadians to be liars in the same way as us Britons. This then causes an internal conflict, to a greater or lesser extent, in the mind of the oath taker. But it is not US that should be forced to wrestle with our conscience but the archaic medieval relic which is the monarchy. It is THEY who should feel the weight of their conscience.
The way that the establishment in both Britain and Canada try to shrug off the oath means a number of things. Firstly if the authorities take such things so lightly (‘it is only general’, ‘you can recant afterwards’) why should citizens take other oaths seriously. Why should they not take an oath in a Court of Law and regard it as just committing themselves to a broad unspecified adherence to the truth, or be tempted to lie and publicly recant afterwards. It demeans oaths. Secondly the mere fact of an internal psychological conflict could be a form of subtle control in itself. I do not wish to see the queen wrestle with HER conscience on OUR behalf – I would rather the conflict did not arise in the first place!