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FIRST-PERSON: Check your Bible at the door

HAMPSTEAD, NC. (BP)–The Colorado Supreme Court issued a ruling March 28 that effectively bans the Bible from jury room deliberations. It might as well have said to prospective jurors, “No Christians need apply.”

Ten years ago, Colorado jurors sentenced Robert Harlan to die for kidnapping, raping, and murdering a 25-year-old waitress named Rhonda Maloney. Defense lawyers seized upon the fact that several of the jurors had looked up Bible verses, written them down and discussed their meaning during deliberations. On that basis, defense lawyers claimed an injustice had been done in Mr. Harlan’s sentencing. Incredibly, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed, voting 3-2 to overturn the jury’s death sentence in favor of life without parole. (The ruling may be appealed.)

According to the majority opinion, “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.”

An authoritative Bible that actually influences behavior and decisions? We can’t have that in America, now can we? One wonders if the irony of this position was lost on the three justices who voted to overturn the Harlan sentence. If Harlan had been influenced by the same authoritative book, there would have been no kidnapping, rape or murder to begin with.

The troubling extension of this case is obvious. It is not just the Bible that is banned from the jury room. Any biblically derived truth or worldview is also excluded. Christian jurors are not only to check their copy of Scripture at the courtroom door, but apparently they must leave behind their biblically informed positions and opinions as well. Otherwise, they might use that biblical knowledge to influence other jurors.

Arguing the case before the Supreme Court, defense attorney Kathleen Lord protested that the jurors based their decisions on Scripture, not Colorado law: “They went to the Bible to find out God’s position on capital punishment.”

So what if they did? Colorado law already allows for the death penalty. It appears that the jurors simply were ensuring that its application in this particular case seemed to square with their understanding of Scripture. If it is forbidden for Christians to be influenced by their worldview when they serve on juries, then the state might as well disqualify all Christians from the jury pool at the beginning of the selection process.

The ongoing process of marginalizing Christians in America has taken a giant leap forward with this court ruling. At the same time, justice has taken a beating.
Paul Brewster serves as pastor of Barlow Vista Baptist Church in Hampstead, N.C., and is a Ph.D. student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

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  • Paul Brewster Sr.