Judge throws out Quran oath lawsuit, saying suit lacks standing
AP, via MyrtleBeachOnline.com, USA
Dec. 8, 2005
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A judge threw out an ACLU lawsuit aimed at allowing the use of non-Christian religious texts in courtroom oaths, saying the civil liberties group had no active case to argue.
Superior Court Judge Donald Smith, who is based in Raleigh, revealed his decision to lawyers in the case on Thursday. A written ruling was to follow.
The North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued in Guilford County in July, saying it was acting on behalf of members statewide who prefer to swear courtroom oaths on religious texts other than the Bible.
No specific plaintiff was named in the original filing, and the ACLU added the name of Greensboro Muslim Syidah Mateen only after the suit had been filed, saying she was blocked from swearing an oath on the Quran during a 2003 court hearing.
Smith tossed out the case because there is no active controversy involving someone prohibited from using a text other than a Bible, ACLU lawyer Seth Cohen said Thursday.
"Of course, we're very disappointed the judge did not reach the merits," Cohen said. "We do believe there's a case."
He said he would consult with the state ACLU and its board about whether to appeal the decision or await a future opportunity to bring a fresh suit.
Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Roy Cooper, declined to comment because the department had not received a signed order from Smith.
At issue is a state law that allows witnesses preparing to testify in court to take their oath either by laying a hand over a "Holy Scripture," by saying "so help me God" without the use of a religious book or by using no religious symbols.
Asked to clarify whether Muslims could swear on the Quran, two top Guilford County judges said earlier this year that only the Bible could be used.
The ACLU's suit argued that allowing Christians to swear on a Bible while denying Muslims, Jews, Hindus and others an opportunity to use their religious texts violates the First Amendment requirement that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
The ACLU also asked the state's Administrative Office of the
Courts to intervene, but AOC director Ralph Walker said his office
could not sanction the use of non-Biblical texts in courtrooms
without action by the General Assembly or a court ruling.