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Jury box in Boone County. Photo: Public Domain

U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear Missouri case about religious exclusion from juries

In a case from Missouri, the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week declined to decide if jurors can be excluded on the basis of religion. The case involved a state agency’s attempt to reverse a lesbian worker’s win in a workplace bias lawsuit after three prospective jurors were excluded for citing Christian beliefs that being gay is a sin.

State officials had appealed after a lower court denied their request for a new trial following a jury decision siding with plaintiff Jean Finney in her suit against the Missouri Department of Corrections. The state had argued that the removal during the jury selection process of the three individuals who expressed their religious views violated the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment promise of equal protection under the law.

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Finney, who is a lesbian, sued the Department of Corrections, her longtime employer, claiming she faced a pattern of workplace discrimination and retaliation after she began dating a male co-worker’s former wife. Finney, seeking monetary damages, accused the agency of violating Missouri human rights laws by creating a hostile work environment and discriminating against her on the basis of sex. The jury in 2021 sided with Finney, awarding her a total of $275,000 for her sexual discrimination and hostile work environment claims.

During the jury selection process, her lawyer asked about religion in an effort to “identify persons with strong feelings on the subject of homosexuality,” Finney’s legal team said in court papers. Her legal team asked Missouri state judge Kate Schaefer to remove the three jurors, because the lawyers believed their answers to questions about whether homosexuality is a sin showed the jurors were biased against gay people.

The judge said that two of the three jurors in question had been “very clear in that they could be absolutely fair and impartial in this case,” but she agreed to exclude the jurors to “err on the side of caution.” The judge granted the request over an objection from Missouri officials, whose lawyers at one point during the jury selection process expressed concerns about “getting into the bounds of religious discrimination.”

The Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, has taken an expansive view of religious interests in recent years, including a decision last year that permitted an evangelical Christian web design business owner to refuse to provide service for same-sex weddings.

 U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito said after Missouri asked the High Court to review the ruling.

Such treatment of Christians is what he warned of in his dissent in the Obergefell v. Hodges legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, Alito said in “reluctantly” concurring with the court’s decision not to hear Missouri’s appeal Feb. 20.

“In this case, the court below reasoned that a person who still holds traditional religious views on questions of sexual morality is presumptively unfit to serve on a jury in a case involving a party who is a lesbian” Alito wrote. “That holding exemplifies the danger that I anticipated in Obergefell v. Hodges, … namely, that Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be ‘labeled as bigots and treated as such’ by the government.”

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice

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