Witnesses and jurors being sworn in at state courthouses can take their oath using any religious text, not just the Bible, a judge ruled Thursday.
Judge Paul Ridgeway said both common law and state Supreme Court precedent allow witnesses and jurors to use the text “most sacred and obligatory upon their conscience.”
The ruling came after the American Civil Liberties Union argued that limiting that text to the Bible alone was unconstitutional because it favored Christianity over other religions.
The issue surfaced when Muslims tried to donate copies of the Quran to Guilford County’s two courthouses. Two judges declined to accept the texts, saying that taking an oath on the Quran was illegal under state law.
State law currently 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.
The group sought a court order clarifying that the law was broad enough to allow the use of multiple religious texts, or else declare the statute unconstitutional.
ACLU hails decision
Though the judge stopped short of that, the ACLU still considered the ruling “a great victory.”
“As of today all people can use the holy text of their choice,” said Seth Cohen, an ACLU attorney who argued the case.
A trial court judge initially dismissed the ACLU’s suit in December 2005, ruling it was moot because there was no actual controversy at the time.
An appeals court panel allowed the case to go forward in January, after the ACLU 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 was denied in 2003.
The state has 30 days to appeal Thursday’s ruling.