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 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 allows witnesses preparing to testify in court to take their oath 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....
This is quite right. First, governmental preference in oaths for the Bible over the Quran would violate the Establishment Clause, under existing precedents that as best I can tell are endorsed by all the Justices of the Supreme Court.
Second, the whole point of the oath is to invoke God as a witness to one's promise, as a means of making the promise more weighty on the oathtaker's conscience. We should want devoutly religious people to swear on the book that is most holy to them, rather than swearing on a book that means less to them (or means nothing to them), or than simply affirming. This is why, for instance, the Federal Rules of Evidence have long stated,
Before testifying, every witness shall be required to declare that the witness will testify truthfully, by oath or affirmation administered in a form calculated to awaken the witness' conscience and impress the witness' mind with the duty to do so.
For a Muslim, that's the Quran, not the Bible.