Opinion: POLYGAMY TRIAL RAISES RIGHTS ISSUES
by Godfrey D. Lehman
American Reporter Correspondent
San Francisco, Calif.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Way down at the tag end of the Constitution in Article = VI (the next to last) is a declaration just as clear -- and indisputable --=
as anything can be: "... but no religious Test shall ever be required as a= Qualification to any Office or public Trust under theUnited States."
But= tressing this caveat is the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law r= especting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise the= reof" -- a declaration intended to preserve your right to follow any religi= on you want (provided it doesn't harm someone else) and also your right eit= her to boast to the world -- or keep it mum and strictly to yourself. That= 's your choice, exclusively.
Not, however, in Salt Lake City, as far as a few dozen jurors are conce= rned. Not far away, in rural Utah, 52-year old Tom Green has been living f= or several years not with just one nor even two, but with five wives and 29= children (he says he is only legally married to one of them,however).
Ap= parently all 35 of these people are content with the arrangement, allowing,= ofcourse, for occasional intra-family spats and rivalries. Green believes,= as do quite a few other Mormons like him, that not only has God given him = and his wives the right to choose this lifestyle, but it is required of the= m because some Old Testament prophets lived polygamously.
Despite such a= lleged authority, government officials think otherwise. They charged him wi= th bigamy and are taking him to trial (they had to charge bigamy because th= ere's no law saying quintigamy was acrime!).
And that's where jurors' rights to religious privacy is at issue. Jurors= act as an "office of public Trust," yet the judge hearing the case wants e= very juror candidate at the polygamist's trial to reveal certain aspects of= his or her religion, by quizzing each juror on his attitude toward polygam= y (there is a strong likelihood in Utah that most of the jury will be membe= rs of the Mormon church). The reason, according to the court, is to select = a "fair and impartial jury."
First, don't you believe that excuse. The true objective in this trial, = as in every jury trial, is to build a stacked and controlled panel to bring= in the desired verdict. The fact that both sides are contending means only= that the ultimate verdict will be based not on Constitutional principles, = but, presumably, on which side is the better stacker.
Caught in the middle are the several dozen Utah citizens forced tomake p= rivate revelations, not only about religion but other familyintimacies. The= jurors will not be told that the court is violating boththe Federal and Ut= ah constitutions by quizzing them on religion, and manywill stumble and stu= tter with embarrassment and humiliation.
Thus, as well as being harassed, the jurors will undergo religioustests= so the court can determine which ones are allegedly "qualified" tosit as p= ublic officers -- Article VI be damned! Even "to pick a fair andimpartial j= ury," the judge's excuse for invading juror rights cannot bepermitted to st= and.
Jury selection should be completely at random, without anyrefinement --= except to allow for juror convenience. If religious beliefsare inconvenien= t for the court, or either side, that is their problem.
Godfrey Lehman= is author of We, the Jury; The Ordeal of Edward Bushell; and What You Need= to Know for Jury Duty.