Institute launches So Help Me God: a history of oaths of office

On 10 June 2021, So Help Me God: a history of oaths of office was launched at Parliament House, Sydney.

The event was hosted by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, the Honourable Jonathan O’Dea MP, who participated in a panel discussion chaired by ACU’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Zlatko Skrbis.

So Help Me God is the third paper in the PM Glynn Institute Occasional Papers series. It was written by David Corbett, a visiting fellow at the Institute, together with Damien Freeman, under the guidance of an advisory group chaired by Michael Casey.

The paper continues the Institute’s investigation of the history of religious practices in Australian public institutions that we began with our first paper, Amen: a history of prayers in Parliament, which was launched by the prime minister at the 2019 National Prayer Breakfast at Parliament House, Canberra.

The reports of various royal commissions in recent years remind us of the reasons why Australians’ trust in institutions has declined dramatically. This paper unpacks the way in which solemn promises give rise to trust in public life. In particular, the paper distinguishes three senses of truth that are relevant to oaths of honesty, duty, and loyalty, which are apparent in three cognates of truth: namely, true, trust, and troth. Such promises of loyalty, duty, and honesty might yet have a role to play in helping to restore trust in public life-or at least point us in the right direction.

Two responses to the paper were presented by the panellists, Justice Mark Leeming, a member of the NSW Court of Appeal, and Bryan Turner, ACU’s professor of sociology.

Justice Leeming offered reflections on the place of oaths in legal history. Professor Turner discussed the sociology and anthropology of oaths, or more particularly, the lack of work that has been undertaken on this topic.

The audience included many distinguished guests who have themselves taken oaths of public office, including current and former members of the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly, as well as judges of the Supreme Court and the Federal Court.

Please contact the Institute if you would like a hard copy of the publication. A PDF may be downloaded here.

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