NC Witnesses Can Swear on Quran In Court

Ken AshfordConstitution, Courts/Law, Godstuff, Local InterestLeave a Comment

Ks11845I’ve been following this story for a while, and frankly, I’m not sure why it was an issue to begin with:

The issue surfaced when Muslims tried to donate copies of the Quran to Guilford County’s two courthouses. Two judges declined to accept the texts, saying that taking an oath on the Quran was illegal under state law.

What exactly is the North Carolina state law regarding this?

Judges and other persons who may be empowered to administer oaths, shall (except in the cases in this Chapter excepted) require the party to be sworn to lay his hand upon the Holy Scriptures, in token of his engagement to speak the truth and in further token that, if he should swerve from the truth, he may be justly deprived of all the blessings of that holy book and made liable to that vengeance which he has imprecated on his own head.

There is also a provision that a witness can make an affirmation without resort to the Scriptures or God.  (This is for the benefit of both atheists, as well as people whose religious forbids them to "swear" to God).

The ACLU intervened and a lawsuit was filed.  Today, we got a result:

Any religious text, and not just the Bible, can be used to swear in a witness or juror in North Carolina’s courtrooms, a Wake County judge ruled Thursday.

"As of today, all people can use the holy text of their choice," said Seth Cohen, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who argued the case. "We think it’s a great victory."

The ruling from Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway came after the ACLU argued that limiting the text to the Bible was unconstitutional because it favored Christianity over other religions. Citing common law and precedent of the state Supreme Court, he said those taking a court oath can use a text "most sacred and obligatory upon their conscience."

This, of course, is the right decision by the Court. 

Remember, the point of taking an oath is so that the jurors can be assured that the witness is telling the truth.  Imagine yourself as a juror, and the witness (to say, a car accident) is asked to testify about what he saw.  But before he testifies, he’s asked to swear to tell the truth on the Bible, a book he doesn’t believe in!  How much is "swearing on the Bible" going to have to a person who practices the religion of Islam?  Not much.  But if he ask him to "swear to tell the truth" on a religious text that is sacred to the witness, you are more likely to get honest testimony.

The state of North Carolina lost this case (thankfully).  They have 30 days to review, and decide if they want to appeal.  Let’s hope they don’t.