Arthur P. Meister
Loyalty and solemn oaths
Law enforcers have many loyalties – a partner, the group to which they belong, the organization as a whole, and many other associations with which they are involved. However, if any of these entities should come into conflict, where should their greatest loyalty lie?
For law enforcers, there are two solemn and very public commitments you will make that will challenge anything you may have previously agreed to or later encounter.
(1) Will the graduates please stand, raise their right hand, and repeat after me, “I solemnly swear to defend the Constitution of the United States…..” etc., etc.
(2) Raise your right hand, and repeat after me, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you, God?”
Where does the oath of office and the sworn promise to reveal the absolute truth in a court of law fit in relation to the myriad of other pledges and promises made along the way,?
Oaths for public office too often seem like a perfunctory administrative exercise, a quick one-time request to Raise your right hand and repeat after me, with little indoctrination and lesser follow up throughout one’s career. One can swear to all he or she wants, but it isn’t until the commitment gets tested that the true meaning of what should have been a solemn rite comes to the fore. All the hand raising with pomp and circumstance means little in light of what has to be in terms of how one actually thinks and feels.
A truly solemn oath should be sworn only after having seriously delved into and fully understanding what one is accepting and voluntarily swearing to do.
The essence of any oath goes beyond symbols and words, and there lies the crux of this very important part of a public servant’s professional life. By raising one’s right hand, placing it on a bible, over your heart, or other document, one is publicly communicating in both words and gesture what should be a deeply felt, “wholehearted” commitment to live up to what is being sworn.
Oaths affirm and convey what should be a conscious conviction to commit one’s self in both deeply held belief and full intent to fulfill that which you’re swearing to uphold. An oath should be at the forefront of everything one will do in the public service realm. It should imbed a strong sense of resolve that reworks one’s understanding of where the oath lies in the hierarchy of everything else. It should be a transforming experience. The depth of your personal conviction will be the key to its actual fulfillment. It should sit at the core of your character, and become the force of reasoning that applies to any and all situations that test its premise, under any circumstance.
“I, (name), so 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; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” 5 U.S.C. >3331., (delineates the Oath of Office and the Constitution).
The example of the federal oath is clear that the United States Constitution is the ultimate recipient for a loyal commitment of those swearing to it, which includes the laws and regulations that support this concept throughout its legal venues and lifespan. You are not swearing to just a document, but to a complex concept embedded in a Bill of Rights and amendments that impact everything one does as a law enforcer.
Most state and local oaths require some form of true faith and allegiance (loyalty) to principles of law that transcend the demands of everyday relationships and dilemmas. There are no references to any person, department or community in any of the public service oaths I have seen. Don’t let the immediacy and intensity of any situation or another’s expectations cloud your thoughts in relation to what you have sworn yourself to do. Remember, You are swearing your highest loyalty to the law! It is a BIG deal. It deserves much more effort to educate and understand than just, “repeat after me….”
The indoctrination of the ideals you are solemnly swearing should be stirring and revisited enough to carry one through the years after, when the emotion of the moment is long faded and reality has pummeled its ardor.
There is nothing wrong with re-affirming, even re-committing to the oath of office on occasion when promoted up the chain of command. Each promotion or reassignment is the good time to do this.
The most loyal are those who stay true to oaths they have taken, who value honesty in the highest realm, and expect the same from others.