This past November, Americans made clear that they distrust political leaders and the political establishment. I am a conservative, and I believe that conservatives are the leaders against government abuse and lawlessness. Increasingly there have been many challenges to those seeking to exercise their religious faith freely and in many contexts of our lives, not just in church. Conservatives have spoken out loudly against these abuses. Today, I write about another such challenge.
On March 3, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to review a case that could resolve if it is unconstitutional for the government to forbid someone from serving as a juror because of her religious faith and association. The Supreme Court has held that it is unconstitutional to forbid a person from serving as a juror because of that person’s race or gender, but has yet to address specifically the question of whether a person may be removed from a panel of potential jurors solely because of her religious affiliation.
We live in a country founded on the principle that the government may not prohibit the free exercise of religion, and that all Americans have a right to a jury trial for capital offenses. This may seem to be a tricky constitutional question of whether the government may discriminate against the right of Americans to a jury panel consisting of, at least in part, people of religious faith. The answer seems obvious to me.
Christopher Young was tried for capital murder in Texas and sentenced to death in 2006. At his trial, the prosecutor struck a potential juror just because some of the members of her church ministered to prisoners. This potential juror had no involvement in her church’s prison ministry. She was struck simply because other people at her church ministered to prisoners. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that it is permissible for the government to remove the juror because of her religious affiliation.
The same distrust of government that drove Americans to the polls in November applies to ambitious prosecutors and elected judges of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, who are part of the political establishment. Is it proper for the government establishment to discriminate in the courtroom based on religious affiliation?
Over 500 leaders of faith signed a letter calling on the State of Texas to disavow this practice of allowing prosecutors to strike potential jurors because of their religious affiliations. Now this issue is before the Supreme Court. While many of my fellow conservatives have a different opinion about the death penalty than do I (I believe it should be abolished, but not by the courts), regardless of their opinion of the death penalty, I urge conservatives to stand united against allowing prosecutors to discriminate against potential jurors on the basis of religious affiliation.
The constitutional right to a jury belongs to every American. It is a right based in the common law, which is based largely in Biblical principles. There is, on the other hand, no constitutional right to be a juror. Progressives have done great damage to our country by attempting to remove God from the public square. Allowing government to remove God from the jury box – where His wisdom is needed as much as anywhere – seems as wrong, un-American, and dangerous as removing God from the public square.
Richard A. Viguerie is chairman of ConservativeHQ.com.