ACLU Files Lawsuit Challenging Religious Discrimination by North Carolina Courts

July 26, 2005 12:00 am

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RALEIGH, NC — The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina today filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s practice of refusing to allow people of faith to take an oath in court using a religious text other than the Christian Bible.

“The government cannot favor one set of religious values over another and must allow all individuals of faith to be sworn in on the holy text that is in accordance with their faith,” said Jennifer Rudinger, Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “By allowing only the Christian Bible to be used in the administration of religious oaths in the courtroom, the state is discriminating against people of other faiths.”

The lawsuit was filed today in Superior Court in Wake County on behalf of the organization’s statewide membership of approximately 8,000 individuals of many different faiths, including Islam and Judaism. The organization is seeking a court order clarifying that the phrase “Holy Scriptures” in the state’s existing statute is broad enough to allow the use of multiple religious texts in addition to the Christian Bible, such as the Qur’an, the Old Testament and the Bhagavad-Gita.

On June 28, 2005, the ACLU of North Carolina wrote to the Administrative Office of the Courts, calling upon that rule-making body to adopt a policy allowing the use of the Qur’an and other religious texts for the swearing of oaths in court proceedings. The Al Ummil Ummat Islamic Center had previously offered to donate copies of the Qur’an to the Guilford County court system for this purpose. Muslim groups, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and interfaith religious organizations also joined the ACLU in calling upon the state courts to respect religious diversity by allowing the use of multiple religious texts. On July 14, 2005, the Administrative Office responded that it was declining to adopt any rule concerning the use of religious texts and indicated that either the Legislature or a court ruling would have to decide this question.

Existing North Carolina statutes allow for the use of a religious oath to be sworn “with upraised hand,” without the use of any religious text, and for the use of a secular oath such that the word “affirm” replaces the word “swear” and the words “so help me God” are deleted. The ACLU lawsuit does not concern either of these two options and addresses only the use of a religious oath that also involves the use of a religious text.

For a copy of today’s complaint go to: /node/37759

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