State News

Judge Rules in ACLU's Favor on Religious Texts in Court

Posted May 24, 2007
Updated May 25, 2007

— A Wake County judge ruled Thursday that any religious text can be used to swear in a witness or juror in the state's courtrooms, not just the Bible.

The American Civil Liberties Union argued a law that some judges said required the state's courts to use the Bible alone is unconstitutional because it favors Christianity over other religions.

The ACLU sought a court order clarifying that the law is broad enough to allow the use of multiple religious texts, or else declare the statute unconstitutional.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway ruled that a witness or juror can take a court oath using a text "most sacred and obligatory upon their conscience," citing common law and precedent of the state Supreme Court.

The judge didn't declare the law unconstitutional or rule on whether the term "Holy Scriptures" could be reasonably interpreted to mean any sacred text other than the Bible. But the ACLU still considered the ruling favorable.

"The judge's ruling today makes it clear people of faith will be treated equally in our courtrooms," said ACLU executive director Jennifer Rudinger.

"As of today all people can use the holy text of their choice," said Seth Cohen, an ACLU attorney who argued the case. "We think it's a great victory."

Others are not pleased with the judge's decision.

"That's not unifying. That's breaking us up into factions," said Mark Creech, of the Christian Action League.

State law allows witnesses preparing to testify in court to take their oath in three ways: 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.

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

In January, the ruling was reversed by an unanimous three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals, after the ACLU had 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 in Guilford County was denied in 2003.

Before the ACLU filed its lawsuit, the group and the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations had asked the state's court system to allow use of the Quran and other religious texts in courtrooms. The director of the state court system refused, saying the General Assembly or the courts needed to settle the issue.

During a court hearing earlier this month, the state Attorney General's Office asked Ridgeway to dismiss the case because the complaint was political.

But the ACLU argued that an 1856 state Supreme Court decision set a clear precedent for oaths with religious texts and noted a change to the law made in 1985.

Before that time, the law was called "Administration of oath upon the Gospels" and stated that someone to be sworn was to lay a hand on "the Holy Evangelists of Almighty God." Legislators took out "the Gospels" in the title and changed the language to simply read "Holy Scriptures" in 1985.

The court decision Thursday noted that North Carolina's oath-taking statutes were written for Christians but do not limit others from swearing in the way they deem most sacred.

The state has 30 days to appeal the ruling.


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  • redstarlean May 27, 2007

    I see the fundy christians are foaming at the mouth on this one! LOL . My "holy" book is the book of Homer (as in Homer simpson!)
    Seriously, it's about time that the religious right (american taliban) strangle hold on this state is being broken!!

  • mvnull May 25, 2007

    "No, this country was founded on the belief that one could practice one's religion freely -- WHATEVER THAT RELIGION IS!" This is a nice fiction, but it is indeed a fiction. The Massachussetts Bay Colony was a theocracy, with members of other Christian religions banned from the colony (some were even executed). Religious freedom (for Christians) came late to the colonies. There were some colonies that had more religious freedom than other (such as Rhode Island and Pennsylvania), but it was certainly not universal.

  • Jenbo May 25, 2007

    >This Country was founded on The Holy Bible and Christian values. If people don't believe in The Holy Bible, then maybe they should move to a country that endorse's their belief's!

    No, this country was founded on the belief that one could practice one's religion freely -- WHATEVER THAT RELIGION IS! Many of earliest colonial settlers were Christians who came to escape religious persecution from other Christians. (Remember the Pilgrims? They weren't chased out Europe by Muslims and Jews.) And Jews have had an established presence in the US since before the Revolution. President George Washington himself remembered their contribution when he wrote to the congregation of a Newport, Rhode Island, synagogue in a letter dated August 17, 1790: "May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."

  • nosouthernershere May 25, 2007

    ruserious, wrong. The writers of the constitution were not free masons. 15 of them were, there rest were not. 15 fo a small minority of the original signers. Get you fact straight

  • wizard633 May 25, 2007

    Leave it to the ACLU to be on the wrong side, again. This Country was founded on The Holy Bible and Christian values. If people don't believe in The Holy Bible, then maybe they should move to a country that endorse's their belief's!

  • Lightfoot3 May 25, 2007

    Praise Amon-Ra for giving this judge the wisdom to make the right decision. Now just think what a wonderful place it would be, if the world were rid of all gods and religions!

  • peace_of_mind May 25, 2007

    "Christians are so full of themselves that they fail to see the futility of having a nonbeliever swear on their Bible."

    You might want to read through all of the postings. There were several by Christians that agree with the decision for that simple fact. If someone is not a Christian it will make no difference if the swear on the Bible.

  • emanon May 25, 2007

    Also (I rant out of space), the Judge in this case in no terms denied the rights of Christians or said that people COULDN'T bring the Bible into courtrooms. His decision just ruled that other religious text COULD be used. I would have thought that many religious people would have been happy with this ruling since more religion is being brought into the courts, not less. Alas, I guess only SOME religious people are only happy when their, and their alone, religion and religious text are used.

    Of course, I have found that if media links ACLU and religion together, some people always have a negative connotation to it. For those people that say that they hate the ACLU or that the organization gets them riled up, please either give us reasons why they do so or just attempt to have a heathly debate on certain issues that are important to us all. I can respect any disagreement, as long as it is part of a mature debate, not one filled with hate and ignorance.

  • emanon May 25, 2007

    For anyone who says that the Founding Fathers were Christians, should read the book "American Gospel" by Jon Meacham. The Fathers were actually Deists who decided to use the term Creator and not God because they knew it was more inclusive, not exclusive.

    But back to the matter at hand. Some people on here have rightly shown how the ACLU has HELPED, not hindered, the religious communities of this country. For more examples, I suggest going here:

    The ACLU has also helped, in past years, the KKK and Jerry Falwell. Since when did protecting the Bill of Rights become a bad thing? I don't always agree with the cases they bring about, but in the long run, they are protecting our right to exist in a society where the government, whether federal or local, cannot impede on those rights.

    I am all for people having different opinions and I will respect them if a heathly discussion follows, not one full of ignorance

  • mvnull May 25, 2007

    "Name another country who can compete with us on all things that matter." Good question, lizard. Now, what really matters? How many cars we own? How many nuclear bombs we can drop on a neighbor? How 'democratic' we are? How respected we are by our enemies? How close to God we are? Sad to say, but we probably don't do so well on the things that really matter.

    I find it interesting how similar to idolatry is this worship of the Book itself. Not the WORD, but the physical book. When did this come about?