RALEIGH, North Carolina – A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and a Muslim woman over the use of the Koran and other non-Christian texts for state courtroom oaths should be allowed to go forward, the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
A three-judge panel voted unanimously to reverse a trial court decision that had dismissed the challenge to state law and policy. Currently, only the Bible can be used by witnesses when swearing or affirming truthful testimony.
The lawsuit was filed in July 2005 and the trial judge determined it was moot because there was no actual controversy at the time warranting litigation. But the appeals court said that was not so, pointing to the individual plaintiff, Syidah Mateen, who said her request to place her hand on the Koran as a witness was denied in 2003.
Several Jewish members of the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union have filed affidavits indicating they would prefer to swear upon the Old Testament, one of the religious texts of their faith, Chief Judge John Martin wrote.
"We conclude the complaint is sufficient to entitle both plaintiffs to litigate their claims ... though we are careful to express no opinion on the merits of those claims," Martin wrote. Judges Ron Elmore and Barbara Jackson concurred.
Messages left with the state ACLU and the state Attorney General's Office seeking comment were not immediately returned Tuesday.
The issue surfaced after Muslims from the Al-Ummil Ummat Islamic Center in Greensboro, North Carolina, tried to donate copies of the Koran to Guilford County's two courthouses. Two Guilford judges declined to accept the texts, saying an oath on the Koran is not a legal oath under state law.
State law 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.
The ACLU and the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations called for a statewide policy permitting use of the Koran and other religious texts in courtrooms. But the director of the state court system said no, saying the General Assembly or the courts needed to settle the issue.
The ACLU and Mateen sued, alleging state law is unconstitutional because it favors Christianity over other religions.
State attorneys could appeal the ruling to the North Carolina Supreme Court, but the justices are not automatically required to review it because Tuesday's decision was unanimous.