Monday, February 2, 2015

Religious Freedom and Jury Duty

            The trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspected Boston Bomber, has been placed on hold for yet another week. This process of moving back the trial date has been occurring for the past month. The reason for pushing the trial back is the extensive time that is being taken to select a jury. While it has been incredibly difficult to find unbiased individuals in the greater Boston areas, the process has become even harder due to religious ideals. In order for Tsarnaev’s trial to proceed, all potential jurors must be able to impose the death penalty or life sentence with no possibility of release. However, this criterion has effectively eliminated almost half of the greater Boston area. 46% of the population in this region identify as Catholics, according to Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. The issue that emerges from this statistic is that all these people are effectively eliminated from serving on the jury due to religious ideals. The question then is whether religious ideals are allowed to be censored in the public forum in order to gain a more unbiased viewpoint.
                According to the practices of the Catholic Church, the death sentence is not to be used when “non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor.” Having these individuals sit as jurors for Tsarnaev trial would potentially eliminate the death penalty from consideration. However, this fact isn’t a guarantee. Many Catholics would still support the death penalty. This uncertainty comes from a wide range of reasons from simply being loose supporters of the Catholic teachings to the local attitude towards the Boston Bombing incident. The article, however, makes the claim that no matter these other facts, due to the extraordinary decision that would need to be reached even the less-observant Catholics would turn towards the Church for guidance. It is due to this that many feel that Catholics should not sit on the jury in order to leave the death penalty open as an option
                The issue that is in contention from this article is whether religious ideals can be eliminated from a court room or should they be present since one is to be judged by a jury of their peers. In my opinion, Catholics should not be disqualified due to their religious teachings. In order for someone to be tried fairly in a court of law, they should have a highly represented body of their peers decided the facts of the case. To achieve this, a varied of religious preferences should be present in the court room. Due to the large percentage of Catholics, this must be especially true in this case. While the 1st Amendment grants religious freedom, I do not think that it has the ability to deny religion from public services. It can lead to a slippery slope for a varied of other public services positions. One such example could be denying certain religions from the line of duty because they don’t believe in killing another person. If our society denies the responsibly of one public service, such as jury duty, what other duties could be denied to certain religions down the road. Just because an individual identifies as a religion doesn’t mean they uphold all the views of that particular religion. In this case I believe Catholics should be allowed to sit on the jury, even if there presupposed beliefs do not correspond to what the court wants.
                The question that needs to be answered is whether a secular body, such as the government, can deny an individual from a public responsibly due to their religious preferences?

The article can be found here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/01/25/boston-bombing-jury-selection-excludes-observant-catholics/22121061/

7 comments:

Liz E said...

I agree with your findings. I do not believe that it is right to discriminate against such a large percentage of individuals due to their religious beliefs. Even more so, not all people who identify at Catholics follow every preaching of their religion. I think it would make more sense to ask them questions about their beliefs on the issue personally, rather than discounting all who adhere to the Catholic faith. Additionally, I agree that it could create a slippery slope and possibly lead to discrimination of other religious groups from being on a jury. I believe that it will be difficult to find a perfect jury for this case, and excluding 46% of the population will not help.

Mackenzie Y said...

I agree with the opinion that the Catholic population should not be excluded from being on this jury. It is also true that not all Catholics devotedly follow every aspect of their religion. If the prosecutors believe one of the potential jurors has too strong of a belief in the Catholic religion, they have the ability to excuse certain potential jurors. By prohibiting Catholics from being on the jury, this does indeed create a slippery slope for the future. For example, one might interpret this to mean that a jury of one’s peers is people of all the same religion, causing the process of picking a jury altogether to drastically change.

Adam Drake said...

I also agree with your opinion. In order to have a fair trial the defendant must be judged by a jury of his peers and this includes individuals who come from a multitude of religious backgrounds. I also believe that it would not be fair to only place individuals on the jury who favor the death penalty. If 46% of the population is against the death penalty for any reason, religious or not, their opinion should be heard because they are the 'peers' of the defendant. In the future individuals could claim they were devout Catholics simply to avoid sitting on a jury. Even though jury duty is not a fun time for any of the jurors it is in the states best interest to have a fair representation of the public in order to provide a fair trial. It is for this reason that I believe the state should not exclude any religious groups from participating on this jury.

Courtney W. said...

I agree that the potential jury members should not be omitted just because of their religious beliefs. A jury is supposed to be composed of one's peers. In America, this means that the peers would come from a range of backgrounds with a range of religious beliefs. It would be completely unfair to the defendant to stack the jury with people who are pro death penalty just as it would be unethical to stack the jury with people who are against the death penalty. Jury selection in general is an extremely difficult and complicated process that was designed with the idea that it would be a fair compilation of people that both the prosecution and the defense agreed on. It doesn’t seem ethical to me to exclude 46% of eligible jurors based on their religious beliefs.

Sam Cohen said...

I agree with you that the government and our court system should not be able to target one religion and say that any followers of that religion cannot do something that followers of another religion can do. That would constitute favoring one religion over another in a public forum. In this case, religion should have nothing to do with the punishment that a criminal should receive, no matter how much religion is involved in the case. Jurors have a duty to put religion aside and we need to have faith that are jurors will do just that. Prohibiting a religion from partaking in one of our nation's most important processes contradicts the first amendment and is unjust.

Will P. said...

I agree with the contention that the jury should be a representative body of various religions. While the catholic church does not condone or endorse the use of the death penalty in any manner, I believe that there should still be catholic representation in the jury. The representative area of the crime, Boston, has a large population of Catholics, and to exclude them from the jury would be doing society a disservice. Additionally, I believe that many catholics would not uphold this particular belief of their church given the horrific nature of the crime in question. The problem occurs in the uncertainty of the varying beliefs amongst the potential catholic jurors. However, the secular government should select a jury without a religious bias, because in doing so, it would hinder the integrity of the trial process.

Nate McGuinness said...

Religion shouldn't even come into play in jury selection, there are lawyers who specialize in this exact process, if in fact that was some kind of tampering going on or if the jury was truly unbalanced, leaning toward one faith or another heavily which might logically affect the courts ultimate decision given the shared value/belief system, then I believe most people could admit that someone would've caught on to this shared commonality which might pose a threat to the integrity of the judicial proceedings, much in the same way that it would be apparent that an all male jury hearing about a woman plaintiff in a woman's rights case might not be the smartest thing in the world, however one individual on that jury to be excluded because they are a male would be a little ridiculous, just in the same way singling out one person because of their belief system and claiming it may have an affect on the proceedings as a whole is also ridiculous and blatantly discriminatory.