Last month, the US Supreme Court declined to review a Missouri case involving the dismissal of potential jurors who, despite affirming their ability to adhere to the law, were removed because they attended a “conservative Christian church” with teachings against homosexual acts. 

The case started when Jean Finney, a lesbian woman, claimed she was dismissed from the Missouri Department of Corrections due to her masculine appearance, violating anti-discrimination laws. This incident reflects broader legal debates influenced by the Obama administration’s interpretation of civil rights laws extending protections to LGBT individuals. During jury selection, Finney’s lawyer probed potential jurors on their religious beliefs about homosexuality, leading to discussions on sin and morality.

Finney’s lawyer asked whether any jurors attended a “conservative Christian church” with teachings against homosexuality. Responses from jurors, including a pastor’s wife, affirmed such teachings but also noted that everyone sins, and it is irrelevant to the case’s context. Still, Finney’s attorney claimed that “there’s no way…somebody [who] looks at a gay person and says…‘You are a sinner’” could impartially apply the law. As a result, he denied the Christians their right to fulfill their civic duty.

The Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that the dismissal of Christian jurors was justified, not due to their Christian faith, but because their church’s traditional views on same-sex behavior could compromise their impartiality in a case related to alleged harassment over homosexuality, despite assurances they could remain unbiased. This is a deeply concerning and chilling decision. A judge ruled that three individuals were unfit for jury service simply due to their belief in the sanctity of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Then, the US Supreme Court declined to hear the case between the Missouri Department of Corrections and Jean Finney. Justice Alito, while concurring with the decision based on procedural issues, still expressed his concerns about the case. 

Jordan Lorence, writing for the Daily Signal, reported that Alito harkened back to the risks he foresaw in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. He said then that people who opposed homosexuality and same-sex marriage would eventually risk being unfairly “labeled as bigots and treated as such” and expressed skepticism towards the majority’s assurances that the rights and conscience of Christians would remain protected. “We will soon see whether this proves to be true,” wrote Justice Alito. “I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”

Unfortunately, his warning has come to fruition. “I see no basis for dismissing a juror for cause based on religious beliefs,” wrote Justice Alito last month in response to the Missouri case. “I am concerned that the lower court’s reasoning may spread and may be a foretaste of things to come.”

“When a court, a quintessential state actor, finds that a person is ineligible to serve on a jury because of his or her religious beliefs, that decision implicates fundamental rights,” Alito continued.

Alito is right. Religious beliefs shouldn’t exclude anyone from serving on a jury, just as sex and race can’t be the basis for exclusion. Thankfully, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey agreed and also spoke out against the ruling. “We’re not going to let radical left-wing progressives relegate Christians to second-class citizen status… We can’t let that happen,” Bailey said. “The right to participate on juries is codified in the United States Constitution. And that’s a right of citizenship…The only people being discriminated against when the states pass these anti-discrimination laws too often are Christians, Christians who believe in biblical truth.”

The Supreme Court’s decision not to revisit the Missouri courts’ judgment should not be taken as an endorsement of future discrimination against traditional viewpoints on gender and sexuality. Such a precedent could dangerously open the door for government officials to exclude individuals from public life based on their belief in the Christian principles on which our nation was founded.

Remember, what happens in other states is bound to make its way to Wisconsin. The freedom of religion and the right to participate fully in public life, including jury service, are cornerstones of the American republic. These rights must be protected fervently, not eroded subtly through court decisions. 

 

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