Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Does reading the Bible make you a bad jurist?

justice A recent Amnesty International (AI) report caught my attention in which they call for the death sentence of a convicted murderer in Texas to be commuted because “jurors used Biblical passages supporting the death penalty to help them decide whether he should live or die.”  According to AI, “the jurors' use of the Bible during their sentencing deliberations raises serious questions about their impartiality.”

Two points I need to make before I write any further. First, let it be known that I respect the work of AI very much and so this blog should not be seen as an attack on AI as an organization or a criticism of anyone who is a member of this organization.  I find much of their work laudable and their advocacy practices are exemplary. 

Second, it should be remembered that AI is, by principle, opposed to the death penalty for any reason. Hence, they would be calling for this sentence to be commuted regardless of the reason.  But the rationale for their conclusion in this case goes beyond this basic conviction, it seems to me. If AI’s logic is to be followed, Christian jurists need to put aside their biblical convictions when deliberating on cases or, on the other hand, all Bible-believing Christians should be excused as being ineligible to serve on juries because they might just happen to recall some biblical teaching that applies to the case that they might be asked to hear. 

The fact is, true faith is not something that can be privatized or pushed off into the closet whenever it is inconvenient or when it might actually impact on “real life”.  Faith is not just an accessory.  Any attempt to make it such must be resisted for what it is; a subtle but real attempt to infringe on religious liberty.


Lorraine said...

Having recently served on the jury for a criminal case, I can attest that as a Christian, of course, it is impossible to leave one's faith (and worldview) at home - on a jury or for any other reason for that matter. I have to wonder if the rules are different in the US - we were not allowed to discuss with anyone (not even the judge, lawyers et al) what went on in the deliberations, ie. none of 'how we came (or in our case did not come) to the decision' was not fair game for outsiders' knowledge.

Where would 'they' expect to find unbiased jurrors? Everyone has a bias of some sort - we are one dangerous ground when certain biases are singled out as "biased" and others are stamped as not.

No one, not Christian, Muslim, Atheist, animist, et al. can leave their faith (or lack thereof) at home - it is the filter and colouring agent through which our entire existence flows - I wouldn't have it any other way! Christ is my LIFE, not just a hat I wear from time to time.

Anonymous said...

You are forgetting something about serving as a juror: Do not judge and you will not be judged. Pardon and you will be pardoned. i do not believe that a Christian has any place in serving as a juror. When the mob had assembled to stone the woman caught in the act of adultery, what did the Lord say to them, and in turn, to the woman?

Glenn Penner said...

Anonymous, that is certainly a novel interpretation of Jesus' words, but I am pretty sure that this is not what He meant. Besides, jury duty is not optional; it is a legal duty that one is required by law to respond to.

David Kendall said...

Indeed, Glenn. Jesus also says that we are to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and to God what is God's". If Caesar (ie the government) asks us to do our civic duty and serve on a jury (and provided that which "Caesar" asks us to do is not in direct opposition to our faith, as Paul says) then we are to do so, and represent Christ there as we are representing Him everywhere else.