News-Record – December 9, 2005
NC: Judge throws out Quran suit
GREENSBORO -- A judge on Thursday threw out a lawsuit spurred by outcry over the inability of Muslims to use a Quran for courtroom oaths, a lawyer in the case said.
Superior Court Judge Donald L. Smith decided that the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and Greensboro Muslim Syidah Mateen failed to show that an actual legal controversy exists between them and the state of North Carolina.
The judge did not address whether state law allows people to use non-Christian texts for oath-taking, the main issue the ACLU wanted resolved.
"We're disappointed the judge did not reach the merits (of the case)," said ACLU lawyer Seth Cohen, who confirmed Thursday's ruling. "We're confidant we would have won on the merits."
He said the organization planned to discuss whether to appeal the decision.
The ruling, released to the lawyers Thursday, was not written and signed by the judge as of Thursday afternoon, but it should be finalized soon.
It came about four months after the group filed the suit asking a judge to clarify that state law allows people to swear on religious texts other than the Christian Bible. The issue surfaced after Guilford County's two top judges turned down a gift of Qurans from a Greensboro Islamic center after deciding that an oath on the Quran is not a legal oath.
State law refers to someone laying his hand on the "Holy Scriptures," which they interpret to mean the Christian Bible. As an alternative, the law allows someone to affirm to tell the truth while holding their hand upraised.
When the state Administrative Office of the Courts declined to intervene, the ACLU took the issue to court, arguing that the term "Holy Scriptures" is broad enough to include many religious texts.
Mateen, 41, later joined as a plaintiff in the suit after state lawyers argued in court papers that the ACLU lacked the right to sue because there was no legal controversy between the group and the state.
In 2003, Mateen appeared as a witness in a Guilford County court hearing but was not allowed to take an oath on the Quran as she preferred.
In dismissing the lawsuit this week, Smith decided that because she decided to affirm to tell the truth that day and went ahead and testified, no legal controversy remained, Cohen said.
Jennifer Rudinger, the executive director of the state ACLU, said it would be very difficult for a person wishing to swear on a non-Christian text to halt a courtroom proceeding to pursue a legal challenge on the issue.
Mateen said Thursday that she was led to believe by the judge in her case that they could settle the oath-taking issue later after she affirmed to truthfully testify.
"Had I known that it would be taken to this point, I wouldn't have affirmed," she said. "I could have postponed everything until they got some Qurans."…..