Taking oaths and swearing allegiances

It’s been hard this week to avoid being aware that the coronation of King Charles, was taking place (and now has).  The grandchildren were drawing crowns, having coronation parties, being asked to turn up to school, not in their uniforms, but in red/white/blue outfits.  The supermarkets were advertising coronation food and there must have been a huge uptick in the sales of Union Jack paraphernalia – with or without photos of the to-be-crowned pair on them.  

The aspect of the coronation that caught my attention was this information:

‘For the first time in history the public will be given an active role in the coronation, having been invited to say the oath to the King out loud.

During the service, the Archbishop of Canterbury will ask “all who so desire, in the Abbey, and elsewhere, [to] say together: I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God.”

There will then be a fanfare, after which the Most Reverend Justin Welby will say: “God Save The King”, with all asked to respond: “God Save King Charles. Long Live King Charles. May The King live forever.”‘

Well, plainly the last sentence is batty. No king lives forever.  However, the swearing allegiance bit  led me to a discussion with someone on who or what would I swear allegiance to?   Or would I never swear allegiance to anything? Or would there be certain contexts in which I would swear allegiance to something? 

We were discussing this on the bus back from seeing the play Retrograde.  ‘Set in the 50s, the action draws on the real-life hounding of black actors during the McCarthyite era, in particular the pressure – essentially, do this or you won’t work – put on Sidney Poitier to denounce the glorious singer, actor and campaigner Paul Robeson.’

In this real-life request, playwright Ryan Calais Cameron, ‘takes us inside the adrenal real-time deliberation and confrontation that pushed the up-and-comer [Poitier], then 28, to the limit. A signed loyalty oath, an affirmation of American values bedded in anti-Communist paranoia, was demanded of him.’

The play is brilliant, and showcases the dilemma of do you stand up for across the board human moral values or do you compromise these to further your career, or other personal gain?  I didn’t know the real outcome of this specific event – would Poitier denounce Robeson in order for Poitier to gain an NBC contract for a film part, or would Poitier stand true to his values and his friend.  Thus I was  on tenterhooks, watching the dilemma play out with the two supporting characters – one a total bully trying to influence Poitier’s decision.

Fortunately, the swearing allegiance to the newly crowned King Charles III was optional.  But in some circumstances it’s not.  In the UK, ‘ Members of both Houses of Parliament are required by law to take an oath of allegiance to the Crown. …  The form and manner of giving the oath are set out in the Oaths Act 1978.’  It reads, ‘I swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King Charles, his heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.’  The permitted alternate version – the solemn affirmation – reads, ‘I do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm, that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King Charles, his heirs and successors, according to law.’

I became a US citizen because I wanted voting rights, and wondered at the time whether the value of voting rights outweighed the requirement to take a very muscular oath of allegiance:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform non-combatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

I wonder how many UK/other dual citizens in the coronation fever swore allegiance to King Charles.  How would that square with swearing allegiance to any other country that they are nationals of?  I then found myself wondering how many countries actually allow dual citizenship.  I found a 2019 list. (Is it accurate or is it a Chat GPT hallucination, and how would I know?)

How is it that both the US and UK recognise dual citizenship but certain roles, and conditions require swearing allegiance to one or other of them. In my case, suppose the US and UK went to war with each other, where would my allegiance lie?   If push comes to shove am I more of an American or a British citizen?

Holding the view that it is wiser not to swear allegiance, take loyalty oaths, affirmations, or similar to country or king as country borders change, country politics change, kings die, I  find I that I had better not apply to be an MP,  a Member of the Judiciary (justices of the peace, district judges, circuit judges etc), a police officer in England or Wales, or to join the UK Army

In Taiye Selasi’s TED talk, Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask where I’m local, she asks:  ‘How could I come from a nation? How can a human being come from a concept?’  And continues, ‘I had learned to speak of countries as if they were eternal, singular, naturally occurring things. … it came as a huge relief to discover the sovereign state. What we call countries are actually various expressions of sovereign statehood, an idea that came into fashion only 400 years ago. … History was real, cultures were real, but countries were invented.’   

I like her perspective.  She calls herself multi-local and argues the case for why this is, saying, ‘The myth of national identity and the vocabulary of coming from confuses us into placing ourselves into mutually exclusive categories. In fact, all of us are multi — multi-local, multi-layered.’   Listen to her talk. 

It may be you too will be swayed by it, maybe to the extent that you will reject the idea of swearing allegiance to a country (or king).  In this vein, consider too,  the poem, All You Have is a Country by Ha Jin, that hit my in-box this week, it speaks volumes, in terse lines, on someone’s relationship to their country.  Sidney Poitier did not sign the oath of loyalty.  Good for him.


Image: Harold, earl of Wessex, touching holy reliquaries with either hand, swears fealty (allegiance) to Guillaume, duc de Normandie, later William I of England

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