Get Religion Out of Courts. Period.
Something has come up and it’s not going to go away.
Last week the Greensboro Islamic Center tried to donate copies of the Quran to the Guilford County Courts for use when swearing in people of the Muslim faith.
The offer was turned down, however, because state law which dates back to 1777 has a very narrow definition of what constitutes ‘“Holy Scripture.’”
Guilford Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Doug Albright sensed no irregularities to the state policy. ‘“Everybody understands what the ‘Holy Scriptures’ are,’” he is widely quoted as saying. ‘“If they don’t we’re in a mess.’”
It’s a mess all right.
As it stands, an oath taken on the Quran is no good, likewise with the Book of Mormon, the Talmud, the Lankavatara Sutra, the Bhagavadgita, Dianetics, Plato’s Republic, The Evolution of Species, The Communist Manifesto and The World According to Trump.
Around here, if it ain’t the Bible, then it ain’t worth squat.
But is this policy a wise one in the face of a changing state demographic? According to Badi Ali, imam with the Islamic Center of the Triad, estimates that 100,000 Muslims live in NC, with perhaps 10,000 living in the Triad alone. And like it or not, for these people the Bible holds little significance. Badi says that Muslims recognize the document as important only because the Christians believe in it, but that they do not believe in the Word as outlined in the Good Book. For someone who believes in Allah and Muhammed, swearing in the names of Jesus and God has slightly more significance than taking oath in the names of Larry, Moe and Curly.
Clearly the status quo does not fit the bill. But what can we do about it? The slope is indeed slippery. If we allow Allah-fearing Muslims to swear on a Quran, should we then allow each swearee to choose the holy text upon which they’ll place their hand? Will there be menus on the judges benches and small bookshelves in the courtrooms to hold the tomes? Will a pagan be allowed to swear on a rock or piece of tree bark? And what of atheists or people of indeterminable spirituality? Will they be allowed to bring whatever book they want? How long before someone pledges to tell the truth in the name of Eric Clapton?
Perhaps it is time to take the Good Book out of the courtroom altogether. Instead of using books we can use a symbol that binds us all, an icon with the authority to guarantee us our differences as it celebrates our freedom.
Before testifying in court, witnesses could place their hands on a framed copy of the Constitution of the United States of America.
It’s the one thing we all believe in, something that unites instead of divides us, and all of us ‘— Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Hare Krishnas, Scientologists and what have you ‘— have equal protection under it.