ACLU of New Jersey Successfully Defends Right of Religious Expression by Jurors

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
December 22, 2004 12:00 am

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Citing ACLU Arguments, State Supreme Court Says Prosecutors Cannot Reject Jurors Who Are “Demonstrative About Their Religion”

NEWARK, NJ– The State Supreme Court ruled today that a prosecutor violated the New Jersey Constitution when he removed two jurors from a jury pool, one for wearing Muslim religious clothing and another for having engaged in missionary activity.

“In this country, people have a right to express their religious beliefs without fear of discrimination by the government,” said ACLU of New Jersey Legal Director Ed Barocas. “Excluding people from jury pools based on their religious belief or expression violates the principles of freedom found in the Bill of Rights.”

The case concerns the dismissal of two jurors in a criminal case in the New Jersey Superior Court in Essex County. The prosecutor excused the jurors, saying that they were “demonstrative about their religion” and that such persons “tend to favor defendants.”

In a friend-of-the-court brief submitted in the case, the ACLU of New Jersey argued that such actions violated the Equal Protection and freedom of religion clauses of the United States and New Jersey Constitutions, as well as the right to trial by an impartial jury. The ACLU explained that not only should people be free to express themselves about their religion but, in addition, such a basis for jury removal will often lead to discrimination against identifiable religious minorities.

In its opinion, the New Jersey Supreme Court cited to the ACLU of New Jersey’s to support its holding that: “Clothing, in those cases, is little more than a proxy for religion.” Indeed, the Court noted that certain religions require outward expressions of faith or encourage missionary service more than others and, if the prosecutor’s actions were permitted to stand, those religious groups would be discriminated against and, therefore, improperly underrepresented in juries.

The case is captioned State v. Lloyd Fuller. Oral argument took place on December 2, 2003. Ronald Chen, Associate Dean of Rutgers Law School in Newark, argued the case on behalf of the ACLU of New Jersey.

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