JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey announced today that his office filed a petition asking the United States Supreme Court to hear a landmark case to support the fundamental freedom of religious liberty, Missouri Department of Corrections v. Jean Finney. In this case, the court removed jurors from a case solely because they held Christian beliefs—even though the court explicitly found that the jurors were unbiased.
“As Attorney General, I will protect the Constitution and Missourians’ right to be free from religious discrimination, which is explicitly enshrined in the Constitution,” said Attorney General Bailey. “The Constitution isn’t up for debate. My office will use every legal mechanism available to us to defend the fundamental right to be free from religious discrimination, inside and outside of the jury box.”
This lawsuit arose when the plaintiff’s attorney in an employment discrimination lawsuit asked jurors whether they held Christian beliefs. When several responded that they did, the attorney asked the court to remove them because his client identifies as lesbian. The court expressly found that the jurors were unbiased and would treat everybody equally but granted the request to remove them because of their religion “to err on the side of caution.”
In his brief challenging the Court’s decision, Attorney General Bailey asserts that, “The Constitution does not tolerate excluding jurors on the basis of race or sex. It ought not to tolerate exclusion on the basis of religion, the very first freedom protected by the Bill of Rights.”
General Bailey clarifies, “Jurors can be excluded, of course, if their religious views in fact make them biased – just like jurors can be excluded if their race or sex in fact makes them biased. But this Court’s precedents make clear that courts cannot assume, based on stereotypes about race or sex, that a person will be biased. The same should be true of religion.”
General Bailey calls for the Court to hear his case, cautioning “The absence of clear precedent on this issue may be enabling to trial attorneys to evade Batson,” a case that prohibits removing jurors because of their race. “In nearly every case involving a strike based on religion, the juror struck is a racial minority, raising the question whether jurors in some cases are being struck for religion as a pretext for race.” He then goes on to list several examples of racial minorities being excluded from juries, all of which include a religious component.
General Bailey concludes, “The Constitution does not tolerate this discrimination. This Court should grant this petition and speedily condemn religious stereotyping in the jury box.”
The United States Supreme Court’s upcoming term begins in October.