Local News

Debate Over Religious Texts for Court Oaths Goes Before Judge

Posted May 8, 2007 9:53 p.m. EDT
Updated May 8, 2007 11:36 p.m. EDT

— 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.