Raleigh, N.C. (AP) — A lawsuit filed by the ACLU and a Muslim woman seeking the use of the Quran or other non-Christian texts in addition to the Bible for courtroom oaths should be allowed to go forward, the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
A trial court dismissed the lawsuit in December 2005, saying there was no controversy that warranted litigation. The three-judge appeals panel disagreed but did not comment on the merits of the case.
The lawsuit, filed in July 2005, claims the state law that says witnesses must take an oath on the Bible is unconstitutional because it favors Christianity over other religions. State law allows witnesses preparing to testify in court to take their oath by laying a hand over a “Holy Scriptures,” by saying “so help me God” without the use of a religious book, or by an affirmation using no religious symbols.
Plaintiff Sydiah Mateen claims she had a request to place her hand on the Quran denied in 2003. Several Jewish members of the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also have said they would prefer to swear upon the Hebrew Bible, one of the religious texts of their faith, Chief Judge John Martin wrote in the appeal panel’s unanimous decision.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Mateen, 42, said she felt that courts should have at least the three major religious texts in today’s world. She said, “If it was a Quran in the courtroom and a Christian was in there, would they want to testify on a holy Quran?”
“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, director of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The issue surfaced after Muslims from the Al-Ummil Ummat Islamic Center in Greensboro tried to donate copies of the Quran to Guilford County’s two courthouses. Two Guilford judges declined to accept the texts, saying an oath on the Quran is not a legal oath under state law.
The attorney general’s office is reviewing the ruling but hasn’t decided whether to appeal, spokeswoman Noelle Talley said.