The news story that follows is another example of how courts are misinterpreting the notion of "separation of church and state"; in this case, to mean that jurors should not be able to consult religious principles, and specifically, the Bible, to render a decision.
Death Penalty Tossed Over Jury's Bible Study
Monday, March 28, 2005
DENVER — The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday threw out the death penalty in a rape-and-murder case because jurors had studied Bible verses such as "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" during deliberations.
On a 3-2 vote, justices ordered Robert Harlan to serve life in prison without parole for kidnapping 25-year-old cocktail waitress Rhonda Maloney in 1994 and raping her at gunpoint for two hours.
The jurors in Harlan's 1995 trial sentenced him to die, but defense lawyers discovered five of them had looked up Bible verses, copied them down and talked about them while deliberating a sentence behind closed doors.
The Supreme Court said that "at least one juror in this case could have been influenced by these authoritative passages to vote for the death penalty when he or she may otherwise have voted for a life sentence."
Assistant District Attorney Michael Goodbee said prosecutors were reviewing the ruling and could ask the state Supreme Court to reconsider or could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
During oral arguments before the Supreme Court last month, defense attorney Kathleen Lord said the jurors had gone outside the law. "They went to the Bible to find out God's position on capital punishment," she said.
Prosecutors had argued that jurors should be allowed to refer to the Bible or other religious texts during deliberations.
Why should a juror not have liberty to consult the Bible, or whatever other religious book he/she feels might help them, for aid in making a proper judgment about a case? The jurors were apparently trying to make the right decision, and for them this meant a decision that could be backed up by the moral authority of a book traditionally regarded as God's law. Now whether or not they were interpreting the Bible correctly is immaterial; ultimately they were responsible to make as wise and fair a decision as possible, based upon the facts of the case and using their best judgement. And in order to fulfill this responsibility they sensibly sought wisdom according to the highest authority they likely thought was available: the Bible.
And in this they were right. The law, after all, is ultimately founded upon the ethical system whose roots can be traced back to Judeo-Christian influence.
The court's decision reflects the mistaken idea that morality and ethical systems must function independently of religious (especially Christian) influences, or else there will be conflict of interest. Do they believe that the law is a kind of self-generated system, that came into being without any influence of religion?
For many today, even those who would not consider themselves highly religious in practice, the Bible or church teachings contribute greatly to their understanding of right and wrong. Moreover, I argued in a previous post (Becoming Moral) that without appeal to absolutes (such as are found in the Bible) one cannot develop an ethical system that is not arbitrary. The system of law we have today is only possible because of those thinkers who believed in the Judeo-Christian God and in His divine revelation of right and wrong-- their view was that His laws could be universally apprehended.
It is ironic but not surprising then, that judges and courts today presume to remove God out of the decision-making process. It is ironic because without Him law cannot be defined; but not surprising, since the attempt to remove God/religion from the spheres of education, law, arts and the marketplace of ideas has been systematically pursued for years, and has proven quite successful.
To counter this influence, biblical thinking must be restored to the marketplace of ideas, for as Francis Schaeffer so ably showed us, ideas have powerful consequences. And if there is such a thing as truth, then true ideas ought to prevail over false ones.
Click here for Charles Colson's comment on Breakpoint regarding NY Times ironic coverage of this case