Currently, in North Carolina, court witnesses and jurors have two choices: they may be sworn in on the Christian Bible, or they may affirm, using no religious text. When a Greensboro woman, Syidah Mateen, decided that she would like to swear her oath on the Qur'an, trouble brewed. More after the break.
Here are the facts:
When Ms. Mateen appeared as a witness, she requested that her oath to tell the truth be sworn on the holy text of her religious faith, the Quran. When her request was denied and because she would not swear on the Christian Bible, her options were to affirm without the use of a religious text or be denied the opportunity to testify. See N.C.R. Evid. 603 (2005) (“Before testifying, every witness shall be required to declare that he will testify truthfully, by oath or affirmation administered in a form calculated to awaken his conscience and impress his mind with his duty to do so.”). Ms. Mateen chose to affirm to tell the truth, and she now seeks a declaratory judgment determining whether, under N.C.G.S. § 11-2, she has the right to swear on her holy text, the Quran.
The decision of the Court of Appeals in this matter was delivered yesterday. In American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, Inc. and Mateen v. State of North Carolina, Chief Judge Martin wrote for the Court, concluding that a justiciable controversy existed between the State and a Muslim whose request to be sworn in using the Qur'an had been refused. Also implicated were Jewish members of the ACLU whose preference would be to swear an oath using the Old Testament.
The Court said:
Although it cannot be predicted exactly when or how much time will pass until a member of ACLU-NC who would prefer to swear on a holy text other than the Christian Bible is required to take an oath in court, there is sufficient practical certainty that such situation will occur. Accordingly, there is no impediment to litigation which would render litigation avoidable. Because litigation is unavoidable, the case is justiciable under the Declaratory Judgment Act, allowing ACLU-NC to obtain from the court an interpretation of N.C.G.S. § 11-2 and the rights of its members under the statute.
Now, the case will now go back to the trial court for it to decide on the merits whether the words the "Holy Scriptures" in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 11-2 should be interpreted to include not only the Christian Bible, but also other religious texts including the Qur'an and the Old Testament.
Good for the Court! I certainly consider this a step in the right direction.