National News

North Carolina Judge OKs Witness Oaths Using Quran

Posted May 24, 2007

— Witnesses and jurors being sworn in at state courthouses can take their oath using any religious text, not just the Bible, a judge ruled Thursday.

Judge Paul Ridgeway said both common law and state Supreme Court precedent allow witnesses and jurors to use the text "most sacred and obligatory upon their conscience."

The ruling came after the American Civil Liberties Union argued that limiting that text to the Bible was unconstitutional because it favored Christianity over other religions.

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.

State law allows witnesses preparing to testify in court to take their oath by laying a hand over "the Holy Scriptures," by saying "so help me God" without the use of a religious book or by an affirmation using no religious symbols.

The group sought a court order declaring the statute unconstitutional or clarifying that it was broad enough to allow the use of multiple religious texts.

Though the judge stopped short of that, the ACLU and others supporting the lawsuit still considered the ruling "a great victory."

"As of today, all people can use the holy text of their choice," said Seth Cohen, an ACLU attorney who argued the case.

"We welcome this ruling as an expression of our nation's constitutional commitment to religious diversity and tolerance," said Arsalan Iftikhar, legal director for Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The ACLU said six other states have similar laws that favor the Bible in courtrooms: Arkansas, Delaware, Kansas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

In North Carolina, it is rare for someone taking an oath at one of the state's 108 court facilities to request an alternative to the Bible, said Dick Ellis, a spokesman for the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

A trial court judge initially dismissed the ACLU's suit in December 2005, ruling it was moot because there was no actual controversy at the time.

An appeals court panel allowed the case to go forward in January, after the ACLU added Syidah Mateen as a plaintiff. In its decision, the appeals court cited Mateen's claim that her request to place her hand on the Quran as a witness in a domestic violence case was denied in 2003.

During a hearing this month, state attorneys asked Ridgeway to dismiss the case, calling the complaint political.

The state has 30 days to appeal Thursday's ruling and is reviewing it, said Noelle Talley, spokeswoman for the state attorney general.

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15 Comments

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  • jfisk1 May 25, 2007

    The Koran allows, no encourages Moslems to lie to infidels. What a joke!

  • HangOn May 25, 2007

    This "swearing" on anything is just plain silly. Might as well be a stack of blank copy paper because that's about what an oath is worth. You think someone facing prison will tell the truth just because they threw their hand on a book? Why not just hook em up to POLYGRAPHS while testiying?

  • Windmill Tilter May 25, 2007

    I don't see where it makes any difference what is sworn on. My experience is that the dollar bill is probably one of our most sacred documents. People lie like dogs anyway when the are on the witness stand, so what is the big deal.

  • party pooper May 25, 2007

    Can I sware on a comic book?

  • seankelly15 May 25, 2007

    rhamkatte - where in the consitution does it say the things you are saying?

  • Drifter May 25, 2007

    I'm a nonchristian. I guess you're saying I should be sent back to Greensboro?

    I think you're forgetting that this country is about something called freedom, and liberty. Are you sure you're not from the middle east? They don't seem to respect those two qualities of the US either.

  • rhamkatte May 25, 2007

    This nation was founded as a Christian Nation, by Christians, for Christians to worship the Christian religion. See the Constitution and what is written on all the money. I personally think that all non-Christias should be seny to where ever they came from, along with the ACLU who messes up Waaay more than they fix.

  • Red May 25, 2007

    Didn't you hear gratefultobeUS? The rapture came. And your boy Fallwell was the only one taken up.

  • choppa May 25, 2007

    Growing up in church we were always taught that the bible teaches against swearing oaths, let alone upon the bible itself. Anyway, please explain to me why anyone would want non-Christians to swear upon something they don't even believe in. Duh! Regardless, swearing upon the bible has nothing to do with whether a person is going to tell the truth or not. A person should agree to tell the truth and it should be up to the jury to believe them or not. That's the way it really is anyway.

  • Drifter May 24, 2007

    gratefultobeUS: I find your name and your comment to be well, extremely ironic. This country was founded by Christians, yes, but they also gave us the ability to freely worship whatever deity we want, or none at all. Dare I invoke Godwin's law, but Hilter made some very similiar comments.

    The more comments like these that I hear, the more I'm glad I got away from Christianity while I still could. I prefer people that actually, you know, care about helping their fellow man, kinda like that guy Jesus told us to do.

    Personally I find the idea of swearing on a book to be very silly. People lie all the time, even "Christians" on their Bible. People should tell the truth because it's the right thing to do, not because some god will smite them when their time is up on this mortal coil.

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