by Godfrey D. Lehman
American Reporter Correspondent
San Francisco, Calif.
May 18, 2001
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.