Is it correct that we in the United States cannot be excused from jury duty for religious reasons? Therefore, we must serve on the jury, even though we are conscientiously opposed to doing so and might otherwise face contempt and jail?


This is absolutely incorrect. Under the law, you are entitled to be excused from serving on a jury, if you have sincere religious convictions, based on the Bible, which prevent you from serving on a jury. You might be excused by a clerk, once you make your request in writing, or you may be required to appear before a judge to explain to him or her your sincere religious convictions. Our Q&A in Update # 66 (Update ending Friday, November 8, 2002), explains in detail the grounds for Biblical refusal to serve on a jury.

It is true that some clerks have taken the incorrect position that the law prohibits them to excuse you from serving because of religious reasons. However, once their misapplication of the law was explained to them, sincere Christians opposed to serving on the jury were ultimately excused.

To help you better understand the legal application of the issue, we are setting forth below excerpts from a letter with which we provide the courts in relevant cases. This document sets forth the legal rights of sincere Christians who refuse to serve on a jury because of their sincere religious convictions, which are based on Biblical grounds and the Church’s teachings. Please understand that a potential juror may be able to raise additional grounds justifying his excuse from jury duty, but we are limiting this discussion to excuse because of religious convictions:

“[The potential juror’s] convictions are in accordance with the Church’s teachings in this regard [of jury duty]. Further, based on [the potential juror’s] convictions, it is the Church’s position that [the potential juror] would sin if [the potential juror] were to serve on the jury, since the Bible teaches that everything, which is not of faith, is sin (Romans 14:23).

“I [a minister] also confirm that the Church of the Eternal God teaches its members against serving on a jury.

“In addition, a relevant case was decided several years ago. The Supreme Court for the state of Minnesota held that a member of the Worldwide Church of God (of which the Church of the Eternal God is an offspring), who had refused to serve on jury duty because of religious beliefs, was guilty of contempt for such refusal. The United States Supreme Court vacated the decision and remanded the case back to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Minnesota Supreme Court, taking its cue from the United States Supreme Court, then reversed itself and held that the Church member would not be required to serve because of her religious conviction. The citations to the primary case are, In re Jenison, 375 U.S. 14, 84 S.Ct. 63, 11 L.ed. 2d 39 (1963), and In re Jenison, 125 N.W. 2d 588 (1963).

“Two other cases which are in agreement with the Jenison court are State vs. Everly, 146 S.E. 2d 705 (1966) (by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia) and U.S. vs. Hillyard, 52 Fed.Sup. 612 (1943, E.D. Wash.).

“Section 204 of California Code of Civil Procedure [or relevant similar sections in other jurisdictions] does not prohibit you excusing a potential juror because of his or her religious convictions. It states that an eligible person ‘shall not be exempt from service as a trial juror by reason of occupation, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or economic status, or for any other reason.’

“This law prohibits discrimination against potential jurors, who are willing to serve. This law is in compliance with the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the states to discriminate against persons because of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, economic status, or occupation. This law serves as a shield, but not as a sword. For instance, it prohibits a judge to excuse or disqualify a female black juror, because the judge only wants white male men on his jury. As stated, this law does not prohibit excusing a potential juror because of his or her religious conviction preventing the juror to serve on the jury—otherwise; it would be in violation of the US Constitution. It would also be inconsistent with the remainder of the statute, as it says that a juror cannot be excused ‘for any other reason,’ while that statute itself allows excuse under certain circumstances (for instance, if the juror is physically handicapped, too old, or if there is financial hardship).

“In this regard, notice should be taken of the following decisions:

“‘[W]here the [government] has in place a system of individual exemptions [as is the case in California regarding jury duty, such as disabled persons, financial hardship, etc.], it may not refuse to extend that system to cases of “religious hardship without compelling reason.”‘” Employment Division, Dept. of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 884 (1990). See also, City of Chicago, 342 F.3d at 764. Such a refusal ‘tends to exhibit hostility, not neutrality, towards religion.’ Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 693, 708 (1986).

“In addition, as [the potential juror] is religiously opposed to swearing, the courts have held that a person who is opposed to swearing, because of his or her religious convictions, cannot be forced to swear or raise his or her right hand. (Compare United States of America v. Looper, 419 F. 2d 1405 (1969); Gordon v. State of Idaho, 778 F. 2d 1397 (9th Cir. 1985). This is especially true regarding a ‘juror’s oath’ in light of a recent—highly publicized—decision of the Colorado Supreme Court to the effect that jurors are not permitted to resort to the Bible during jury deliberations. Other reported cases have made it clear that a potential juror must obey the judge’s instructions to the jury, even though they might violate a juror’s individual conscience, which [the potential juror] could not do.”

It is critical to fully understand this issue, and our strong recommendation is that you also thoroughly familiarize yourself with the Biblical teachings that lead Christians to avoid jury participation.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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