By Lathan Watts, Director of Public Affairs
In his 1984 State of the Union address, President Ronald Reagan exhorted the American people, “…we must be cautious in claiming that God is on our side, but I think it’s alright to keep asking if we’re on His side.” This most poignant question should be revisited often. Our justice system may soon provide insight to the answer.
Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, sitting en banc, heard oral argument in United States v. Corrine Brown. At issue in the case is whether the trial court impermissibly dismissed a juror, during deliberation, for seeking guidance through prayer and believing his prayers were answered.
In July 2016, a federal grand jury indicted former Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) on fraud charges; the case proceeded to a jury trial in April 2017. During the jury’s deliberations, the district court removed a juror who stated to other jurors that he had prayed for and believed he received the guidance of the Holy Spirit in considering the case. The judge questioned the juror, who confirmed that he had no “political, religious, or moral beliefs that would preclude [him] from serving as a fair and impartial juror” and that he was not “having any difficulties with any religious or moral beliefs that are, at this point, bearing on or interfering with [his] ability to decide the case on the facts presented and on the law as [the court] gave it to [him] in the instructions.”
Despite the juror’s repeated assurances to the court that his religious beliefs were not interfering with his ability to follow the law and the evidence, the judge determined that the juror was “using external forces to bring to bear on his decision-making in a way that’s inconsistent with his jury service and his oath.”
That oath ends with the words, “so help me God.” One can’t help but wonder to whom the juror was swearing that oath if not, you know, God? This juror sought God’s help, believed he received it, and in doing so was deemed unfit to serve on the jury.
Moreover, God Himself was deemed an improper outside influence on the juror’s deliberation.
Here we have a microcosm of our nation’s cultural identity crisis – belief in an Authority higher than government is still permissible, for now, but acting upon that belief is not. If a high school football coach like Joe Kennedy in Bremerton, Wash. can be fired for taking a knee in silent prayer after games, if a business owner like Melissa Klein can be fined into bankruptcy by the state of Oregon for running her bakery in accordance with her religious convictions, if Orthodox Jews in New York can be banned from gathering to worship as they have for millennia due to a pandemic, then it was only a matter of time before a jury – the most democratic institution in all of American government – would no longer be open to the faithful.
The right to a fair trial by jury is so fundamental to the American way of life that Jefferson included it in the list of offenses by the King in the Declaration of Independence, right after taxation without representation. That document, our nation’s birthright, asserted that mankind’s equality and unalienable rights flowed from the same Divine source. Our infant nation staked its claim to sovereignty upon the laws of Nature and Nature’s God and appealed to Him as The Supreme Judge of the world. (This may come as a shock to some members of the federal judiciary who act as if their confirmation by the U.S. Senate somehow conferred that title upon them.)
Depending on the ruling by the Eleventh Circuit, this case could end up at the U.S. Supreme Court, where each time the nine Justices enter the chamber, the crier opens the proceedings with the invocation: “God save the United States and the Honorable Court.” Do we mean it? Can a nation implore the protection of the Almighty but refuse protection to His followers? Or have we become as the prophet Isaiah lamented, a people who honor God with their lips but whose hearts are far from Him.
Note: This article was first published on CNS News and is re-published here with permission. The article presents the main points of an op-ed published in CNS News. This work was authored by Lathan Watts. The full article can be found on the CNS News website, here.