In Wake County (NC, US), Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway ruled 24 May 2007 that individiual witnesses or jurors in the North Carolina’s courtrooms may hold their hand on any religious text when they swear to tell the truth. The case arose when the American Civil Liberties Union challenged a state law (North Carolina General Statute § 11-2) limiting the swearing-in ritual to use of the “Holy Scriptures,” meaning the Christian Bible. The ACLU later added a Muslim woman, Syidah Mateen, as a plantiff, because she was denied the option of using the Quran when being sworn in to testify. The ACLU argued that people of non-Christian faiths be allowed to use religious texts other than the Christian Bible.
I ‘spose it’s an improvement, but in my view it doesn’t go far enough. The law says that folks who don’t want to touch the Bible have alternatives, as written in Judge Ridgeway’s holding:
The law further provides, in § 11-3, that those who have “conscientious scruples” against taking a “book oath . . . shall be excused from laying hands upon, or touching the Holy Gospel” but rather, the oath shall be administered while the witness stands, “with his right hand lifted up towards heaven, in token of his solemn appeal to the Supreme God.”
Isn’t that nice? Sheeesh. Why does one have to invoke any religion in such matters? Fortunately, NC law (§ 11-4) permits one to affirm to tell the truth without using any religious symbols.
Judge Ridgeway’s holding is available as a PDF from the ACLU site (I couldn’t find it in the NC courts site yet). Track the story with this Google news link. See the ACLU’s press release about the case here.