Over 500 pastors recently released a letter calling for a new trial for Texas death row inmate Chris Young. The letter urges Texas officials to award Young a new trial because of the exclusion of a potential juror in his original death penalty case.
Young and his attorneys argue that the prospective juror was improperly struck from the jury because of her religious affiliation and her involvement in her church. They argue that striking a potential juror for that reason is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution.
“The process by which [Young] was sentenced to death was tainted by the decision of the government to strike a juror, not because of her personal beliefs, but solely because she was affiliated with a ministry that works to improve the lives of the poor, the elderly, and the incarcerated,” the faith leaders asserted in their statement. “Membership in a particular church or association with a particular ministry is not a fair basis for preventing someone from carrying out her civic duty as a juror.”
One of the letter’s signers, Tony Compolo of RedLetterChristians.org penned an op-ed in which he asks, “Are all of us to be disqualified from serving on juries simply because we take seriously what Jesus said about justice and mercy? Is there no room for Jesus in the courts of Texas?”
Conservative leader Richard Viguerie also weighed in with an op-ed: “Don’t Remove God from the Jury Box.”
The U.S. Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear arguments in the case.
Unfair juries are a perennial problem, and few defendants are afforded a jury of their peers. Prosecutors are known to go to great pains to strike black jurors in murder cases despite it being explicitly forbidden by the Supreme Court. Prosecutors in Philadelphia utilized a training video to help them strike black jurors without being obvious. In some communities, race-based exclusion from juries is extreme. A recent study showed that from 2005-2009 prosecutors in Houston County, Alabama, excluded 80% of eligible black jurors.
Joint Statement of Support from Faith Leaders on Behalf of
Texas Death Row Inmate Christopher Young
The morality of capital punishment is a matter about which people of faith disagree. We, the undersigned, do not necessarily share the same views about the death penalty. Some of us oppose capital punishment; others of us do not. But what unites us, and the reason we are moved to issue this joint statement, is that we all believe that, in the United States of America, individuals ought not to be discriminated against based on their religious affiliation.
In the case of Christopher Young, who is now on death row in Texas, a potential juror was removed from the case based on her membership in a particular church and her association with one of its ministries. This removal was wrong. Membership in a particular church or association with a particular ministry is not a fair basis for preventing someone from carrying out her civic duty as a juror. Indeed, eliminating a particular juror based solely on her religious affiliation offends the Free Exercise Clause of the United States Constitution.
We are not expressing an opinion as to whether Christopher Young deserves to suffer the death penalty as a consequence of the crime he committed. We do believe, however, that the process by which he was sentenced to death was tainted by the decision of the government to strike a juror, not because of her personal beliefs, but solely because she was affiliated with a ministry that works to improve the lives of the poor, the elderly, and the incarcerated. Indeed, the government struck this juror even though she did not personally work with prisoners; she was removed, in short, because of her mere association with a church that pursued its mission of aiding the weak.
We call on the State of Texas to disavow this discrimination on the basis of religious affiliation, and to give Mr. Young a new trial untainted by discrimination against jurors of faith.