by Emery P. Dalesio

The religious texts of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and faiths other than Christianity should be allowed in North Carolina courts for oaths promising truthful testimony, the ACLU argued in a lawsuit filed against the state Tuesday.

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.

“We hope that the court will issue a ruling that the phrase “holy scripture” includes the Koran, Old Testament, and Bhagavad-Gita in addition to the Christian Bible,” said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.

The ACLU called on the state Administrative Office of the Courts to adopt a policy allowing use of the Koran and other religious texts in North Carolina courtrooms. The request came after the two top judges in Guilford County decided that Muslims could not legally take an oath on the Koran.

AOC director Ralph Walker replied in a letter July 14 that his office would not sanction use of religious texts other than the Bible until the General Assembly or the courts settled the matter.

“The lawsuit is seeking a declaration by the court that this is what Holy Scripture means in the law,” she said.

The issue surfaced after Muslims from the Al-Ummil Ummat Islamic Center in Greensboro tried to donate copies of the Koran to Guilford County’s two courthouses.

Guilford Senior Resident Superior Court Judge W. Douglas Albright and Guilford Chief District Court Judge Joseph E. Turner said an oath on the Koran is not a legal oath under state law, which refers to someone laying his hands on the “Holy Scriptures.” The two judges interpreted that to mean the Christian Bible.

In response, the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (C.A.I.R.), asked for a statewide policy allowing oaths to be taken using the Koran. The ACLU of North Carolina claimed that an 1856 state Supreme Court decision sets a clear precedent for oaths with religious texts. The court decision noted that North Carolina’s oath-taking statutes were written for Christians but do not limit others from swearing in the way they deem most sacred.

The ACLU contends the change signals that legislators were trying to be more “inclusive.”

Denying use of other religious texts would violate the Constitution by favoring Christianity over religions, the ACLU said in its lawsuit.