An oath is a solemn promise about your behavior or your actions. Often, when you take an oath, the promise invokes a divine being. For example, you might swear to God that something is true or swear on the Bible that something is true.
Personal and Professional Oaths
Oaths are taken all the time, both a professional capacity and in a personal capacity. In some cases, you can get into serious trouble for taking an oath and then going back on your word or not living up to your promise. For example, if you testify in court and you take an oath to tell the truth and you then lie on the stand, you can be tried for, and convicted of, perjury. If you take an oath of loyalty to your country and you lie, then you can be tried for treason.
Some examples of oaths include:
- The Hippocratic Oath, which is taken by physicians. The oath reads, in part: “
“I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.
I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.
I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.”
- The Oath of Office, which is taken by the President of the United States and which reads:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Tradition dictates that presidents add “So Help Me God,” after saying the Oath, but this is not in the official text.
- The oaths of enlistment, which are taken by people who join the United States military. The oath of enlistment reads:
“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
- The oath to testify in court. Before testifying in any court or legal proceedings, witnesses must answer in the affirmative to the following oath:
“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?”
Other oaths can also be taken, such as:
- An oath of office taken by members of the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate
- An oath of citizenship when you become a citizen of the United States
- Wedding vows in which you make a solemn promise to be faithful
- The oath you take when you join the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.
- The fiduciary oath you take when you become a personal financial advisor
All of these are examples of oaths used frequently in American life.