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Debate Over Religious Texts for Court Oaths Goes Before Judge

Posted May 8, 2007

— Since 1777, North Carolinians have been putting their hands on the King James version of the Bible and swearing under God to tell the truth in court. Now, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit saying that other religious texts, such as the Q’uran and the Hebrew Bible, also should be available.

There are two ways for a person to be sworn to tell the truth in a North Carolina courtroom. The person may put a hand on 'Holy Scxripture' and take a religious oath, or he or she may simply raise a hand and make a non-religious affirmation.

“The term 'Holy Scripture' is broad enough to include other books,” said ACLU attorney Seth Cohen.

ACLU attorneys argued Tuesday before Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway that the state must allow people to swear on religious texts other than the Bible or take the Bible out of the courtroom altogether.

“By definition, that statute has favored one religion – Christianity — over all other religions and therefore violates the establishment clause to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Cohen said.

Rabbi Lucy Dinner of Temple Beth Or said she believes there should be options in the courtroom for people of other faiths.

“I think we wouldn't want to ask someone who was not of the Christian faith to take an oath on the Bible, knowing that was not their text,” Dinner said. “And then, what would the oath mean?”

In court, assistant attorney general Valerie Bateman said that it would be complex and impractical for the courts to allow multiple religious texts because it would be up in the air who would determine which texts would be allowed.

Rev. Mark Creech of the Christian Action League of North Carolina said he’s worried that changing the law will open up Pandora's Box.

“What this means is the racist could swear on a copy of Mein Kampf,” Creech said. “That is a tremendous departure from what the founders of this country ordained to be the point of reference for good morality and good government.”

Senate Bill 88 would have the state permit people to donate their own religious texts for oaths. The idea is that it would be too overwhelming for the state to provide religious texts for every faith in every courtroom, supporters said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • mslisac363 May 10, 2007

    Why do we waste our time on things like this? It doesn't matter what book you use as it's has not stopped people from lying in the court. It would be important if it made people tell the truth.

  • Lightfoot May 10, 2007

    While the constitution might not specifically say the “separation of church and state”, that is what it meant. Basically the government can’t favor one religion over the other. If a court says only books relating to the Christian god can be used, that’s against the spirit of the Constitution.

    Couple this with the fact that THINGS CHANGE. Even if you could convince yourself it didn’t mean that 200 years ago, it means that today. The Constitution and are laws are living documents, that evolve with the times. People use to believe spirits in the sky caused thunder and storms. A time will come when people realize that God and all the other invisible spooks don’t exist. I just hope it happens before the Rapture. :)

  • atozca May 9, 2007

    First of all, the separation of church and state is not in our constitution. It was in a letter Jefferson wrote with the church being protected from the state. Not what the ACLU stands for at all is it? Furthermore, I would like my right to be a Christian to be protected in this country .... as some one mentioned earlier... that is why my ancestors came to America in the 1700s. By the way, we did it legally. Furthermore, there is already an option to not swear on the Bible. Obviously the christian's freedom of religion is what is under attack here. This country is going to see another war.... I just pray that the rapture comes first!

  • Professor Studley May 9, 2007

    " the KJV version of the bible was written in Hebrew in the Old Testament and Greek in the New Testament "

    Wha huh?! ...

  • albritton76 May 9, 2007

    This whole thing is silly. An oath is only as good as the person making it. I think it's a rare occasion when someone's faith (in anything) outweights his desire for self-preservation. Think about it - How often do you hear of an accused (or an accusor) changing his story after being confronted with a Bible? Never.

  • buckeye60 May 9, 2007

    As a firm believer in the constitution of the United States and a Christian, the KJV version of the bible was written in Hebrew in the Old Testament and Greek in the New Testament. I think if it was good enough for our founding fathers it should stand.

  • Professor Studley May 9, 2007

    "Once you understand why you shun everyone elses' God, you'll understand why I shun yours" ... about the only thing migging from this post is a reference to the Nazis now, wait, Godwin's law at work! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_Law

    I swear upon the constitution of these United States of America to uphold this here holy bible, git r' done, and DON'T mess wit Texas! HEEEEE HAWWWWWW!

  • jenjen02 May 9, 2007

    People ---There are choices every day. I am tired of grown adults complaining about not having a choice---The fact of the matter is it/they are not the choices you want.

  • jenjen02 May 9, 2007

    Fact is fact. The very things that Americans take pride in are slowly being challenged by tree-hugging activist whom have nothing else to do with their time. America is the melting pot of the world true indeed but this country also has a culture that comes with it. Diversity being part of that culture is crucial but it should not be divided and conquered and organizations such as ACLU thrive on division.

  • Jenbo May 9, 2007

    >Just like HP said if they want to swear on another Bible Let them go back to where they came from.

    I resent being told to "go back where I came from" if I don't want to swear in court on the KJV. I was born in the US, as were my parents and grandparents.

    Some of these comments make me think that the posters do not realize that we've had people of faiths besides Christianity in this country for generations. (Jews have been here since the country's founding; George Washington described observing a soldier light a Chanukah menorah at Valley Forge.) Or that many of the earliest Christian settlers came to the colonies precisely to escape from religious persecution -- ie, as Quakers, Calvinists, Puritans, etc., they were "minorities" in their own country and wanted to be able to worship as they saw fit, without being thrown in jail, harassed, or killed.