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2021 Victories: ACLJ Successfully Defends the Rights of Jurors To Exercise Religious Beliefs, Including Prayer



December 29, 2021

4 min read

Religious Liberty



This is the latest installment of our year-end Victories Series, looking back at some of the numerous victories by the ACLJ in 2021.

Through the efforts of our legal team – and the power of prayer – the ACLJ successfully helped defend the right to pray – even in a jury box, where God’s wisdom and guidance may be most crucial.

Back in 2017, we told you how a district court in Florida removed a juror because of his religious beliefs. During the course of jury deliberations, the juror (Juror 13) mentioned his prayer for guidance about the case to his fellow jurors.

Despite the juror’s assurances that his beliefs would not prevent him from rendering a proper verdict, the judge removed and replaced the juror, citing the idea of God’s guidance to be an improper outside influence.

Sadly, a panel of judges on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s erroneous decision, in spite of a well-written dissent by Chief Judge William Pryor.

The Defendant then requested and was granted an en banc hearing by the full Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, meaning his appeal would be heard before the Eleventh Circuit’s entire bench.

We filed a critical amicus brief detailing why the panel majority and lower court’s decisions violate constitutionally protected rights, and why they should be overturned, as explained in Chief Judge Pryor’s dissent.

While some may bemoan jury duty, it is the critical – and sacred – right of American citizens to serve on, as well as to be heard by, a jury of their peers. And so is the right to exercise our religious liberty – in this case, prayer – while serving as a juror. We are not obligated to leave our faith outside the courtroom.

Our brief warned of the implications of the court’s actions to remove the juror:

The protections afforded religious belief and the exercise thereof by the First Amendment certainly extend to a juror exercising his religious belief in the power of prayer for wisdom and insight while fulfilling his civic duty and right as juror. . . .

A decision like this, one with these kinds of far-reaching implications, cannot and must not be taken lightly, or made in a vacuum. It tears at the foundation of our society and feeds the divisiveness of our times. The idea that receiving an answer to prayer could disqualify a person from civic duty flies in the very face of the ideas and principles our Founders enshrined in our Nation’s founding documents. The idea that actually believing in the God in Whom we all proclaim to trust is deeply problematic and fundamentally un-American.

The majority of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with our argument, ruling in a 7-4 vote that the judge had abused his discretion by removing the juror based on his statement of prayer.

As stated in the court’s majority opinion, also authored by Chief Judge Pryor:

The juror also repeatedly assured the district judge that he was following the jury instructions and basing his decision on the evidence admitted at trial, and the district judge found him to be sincere and credible . . . Because the record establishes a substantial possibility that the juror was rendering proper jury service, the district judge abused his discretion by dismissing the juror. The removal violated Brown’s right under the Sixth Amendment to a unanimous jury verdict.

Thankfully, our arguments in defense of prayer prevailed and the trial judge’s erroneous decision and the verdict in that case were actually thrown out.

We are hopeful that this victory will stand as an example and that no other jurors will be penalized for their faith and belief in the power of prayer, as we are commanded to pray.

To help the ACLJ continue to have the resources we need to protect religious liberty, please consider making a Tax-Deductible donation to the ACLJ through our year-end Matching Challenge. Your gift will be DOUBLED, dollar for dollar, through the end of the year.

You can read more in the ACLJ’s 2021 Victories Series here.

Chip in today and double your impact.

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