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God’s Jury

Remember how people either didn’t understand the big deal about having a “10 commandments” monument outside of a courthouse, and how even some Democrats thought the objections to such displays might be a just a little alarmist, and that some of us need ease up on our vigilance church/state separation? I caused me to ask this question.

As a gay man, for that matter, should I expect to be treated fairly in the courthouse if I have to walk past a monument to the ten commandments in order to get in?

Basically, by which law am I going to be judged (and perhaps even sentence) when I enter that courthouse? The laws of the state, or someone else’s understanding their God’s laws? I may be hoping for the former, but what happens when someone brings the Bible into jury deliberations?

In the capital case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit split 9 to 6 on the question of whether notes including Bible verses prepared by the jury’s foreman and used during sentencing deliberations required reversal of the death sentence imposed on Stevie L. Fields in 1979.

Mr. Fields, on parole after serving time for manslaughter, committed a series of rapes, kidnappings and robberies, and murdered Rosemary Cobbs, a student librarian at the University of Southern California.

After the jury convicted Mr. Fields and while it was deliberating his sentence, the foreman, Rodney White, conducted outside research, consulting several reference works and preparing a list of pros and cons on the death penalty that he shared with fellow jurors. On the pro side, he quoted passages from the Bible, including this one from Exodus: “He that smiteth a man, so that he dies, shall surely be put to death.”

Judge Pamela Ann Rymer, writing for the majority, said there was no need to decide whether there had been juror misconduct, “because even assuming there was, we are persuaded that White’s notes had no substantial and injurious effect or influence.”

In dissent, Judge Marsha S. Berzon said there was “no doubt that White engaged in unconstitutional misconduct by injecting his overnight biblical research into the deliberations.” Judge Ronald M. Gould, also dissenting, said the majority had endorsed “a theocratic jury room” in which jurors consider “the death penalty in light of Scripture.”

Now, imagine a gay parent going to court over child custody, trying to win visitation rights or joint custody. Or imagine a gay spouse of a deceased partner going to court with the partner’s surviving family over the estate or the will, if there is one. Imagine a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person going to court over job discrimination, or bringing hate crime case to a jury.

Now imagine someone bringing not just the Bible, but their particular interpretation of it, to bear on discussions in any of the above cases. Which verses might they come across in their “research” that specifically relate to homosexuality? Which ones might they pick? How might they interpret or apply them to any of the cases above?  Does the outcome look anything like justice for the hypothetical plaintiffs in the above cases?

At the far extreme, there are people like the white supremacist brothers who killed Gary Matson and Wifield Mowder believed that they were justified in doing so, because their understanding of the Bible made it just in their eyes. (“Their blood shall be on their own hands,” and all that.)

And if the Bible is to be the basis for jury deliberations, why not judgments from the bench too? What shot does a gay parent have at justice, then, upon facing a “ten commandments judge” like Roy Moore?

The Alabama Supreme Court decided Friday that a heterosexual father is better suited to raise three children than their homosexual mother, with Chief Justice Roy Moore adding that homosexuality shouldn’t be tolerated.

The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in favor of a Birmingham man and against his ex-wife, who lives in a domestic partnership in southern California.

“No matter how much society appears to change, the law on this subject has remained steadfast from the earliest history of the law, and that law is and must be our law today. The common law designates homosexuality as an inherent evil, and if a person openly engages in such a practice, that fact alone would render him or her an unfit parent,” Moore wrote in a concurring opinion.

Moore is known as “Alabama’s Ten Commandments judge” because of his fight to keep a handmade plaque of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom when he was a judge in Gadsden and his decision to place a washing machine-size monuments of the Ten Commandments in the State Judicial Building after he became chief justice last year.

Throughout his opinion, Moore quoted scripture, historical documents and previous Alabama court rulings that he said backed his view.

Homosexual conduct is, and has been, considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God upon which this nation and our laws are predicated. Such conduct violates both the criminal and civil laws of this state and is destructive to a basic building block of society-the family,” Moore wrote.

And remember Sharon Bottoms? The Virginia mother who lost custody of her son because she was a lesbian and lived with her partner?

n the well-publicized 1995 Virginia case, Bottoms v. Bottoms, Sharon Bottoms lost custody of her son Tyler to her own mother, Pamela Kay Bottoms. Even though Tyler’s father had no objections to having Sharon raise their son, Pamela Bottoms successfully invoked the sodomy laws of Virginia to prevent Sharon Bottoms from raising her own son. Pamela Bottoms cited the Virginia sodomy law to identify Sharon Bottoms as a habitual felon under the Virginia sodomy law, using the classification of Sharon Bottoms as a criminal to further object to the imagined harm that might be done to the boy as a result of his being raised by a lesbian. The child was placed in Pamela Bottoms’ custody.

Sharon Bottoms testified in her defense – and for the well being of her child – that Pamela Bottoms’ home was unfit for a child. Sharon testified that Pamela Bottom’s home had been an abusive place where Pamela’s boyfriends would regularly assault Sharon. Tyler was placed into the same environment. There was no mention of the fact that the mother had violated the Virginia cohabitation and fornication laws. An additional irony was lost on the judge: that to keep Tyler from being gay, he was being placed in the home of a woman with a history of raising a gay child.

Well, that case made it all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court, which decided against Sharon bottoms. And the chief justice,  who voted with the majority on that decision wrote the majority opinion for another historic decision.

Virginia Chief Justice Harry L. Carrico’s court made the ruling in 1995 that decided Sharon Bottoms was an unfit mother and that a potentially abusive home was preferable to one with two moms. This is the very same Justice Harry L. Carrico who wrote the opinion for Loving v. Virginia, which upheld Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws in 1967. Yup, the same guy who was hellbent against interracial marriages also thought that simply being a lesbian made a mom unfit.

Carrico sat on the court upheld this ruling.

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

And in writing the majority opinion he added his own biblically inspired spin.

In March 1966, the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upheld Bazile’s decision. Writing for the majority, Justice Harry Carrico (a future chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court) suggested the Lovings might be “rehabilitated” by being allowed to return to Virginia and live apart, “contemplating the error of their way in going against God, nature and the traditions of the Commonwealth.”

And to this day, the Virginia Bar Association still gives out the Harry L. Carrico Award, and describes him as “who exemplifies the highest ideals and aspirations of professionalism in the administration of justice in Virginia.”

So, when you bring the Bible into jury deliberations and bench rulings, what chance does justice have anymore? You can’t bring the Bible or religion to bear in those venues without bringing the Matthew Williams’, Roy Moores, and Harry Carricos of the world in with it, and running the risk of making them “God’s judge,” “God’s jury,” and perhaps even “God’s executioner.”

Crossposted from The Republic of T.

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