ACLU Urges North Carolina Courts to Allow Use of Multiple Religious Texts for Swearing Oaths

July 11, 2005 12:00 am

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Muslim and Interfaith Groups Join in Urging Officials to Protect Religious Freedom and Reject “Bible Only” Policy

RALEIGH, NC — The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina today accused the Administrative Office of Courts of dragging its feet on an important issue of religious freedom and called upon the 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 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.

Muslim groups, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and interfaith religious organizations have also called upon officials to respect religious diversity by allowing the use of multiple religious texts in this and related contexts.

The issue first arose when a Guilford County Muslim woman was denied the right to be sworn in on the Qur’an when she was a witness in a court proceeding. The Al Ummil Ummat Islamic Center has offered to donate copies of the Qur’an to the county court system specifically for this purpose. The responsibility now falls on the court agency to issue a rule clarifying this issue for all state court proceedings in North Carolina, said the ACLU of North Carolina.

In a letter sent to the Administrative Office of the Courts on June 28, the ACLU pointed out that not only does legislative history indicate that the phrase “Holy Scriptures” was intended to encompass more than just the Bible, but longstanding North Carolina Supreme Court precedent also recognizes the validity of faiths other than Christianity and allows for the administration of oaths to be adaptable to diverse religious beliefs. Court precedents also allows for individuals to either take an oath with an “uplifted hand” or to simply an take a secular oath such that the word “affirm” replaces the word “swear” and the words “so help me God” are deleted.

To date, the court agency has not yet responded to the ACLU’s letter.

The letter is available online at: www.aclu.org/ReligiousLiberty/ReligiousLiberty.cfm?ID=18663&c=29.

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