While I agree that the quote you cited from the judge's ruling is very much on-point, and telling and I generally agree with what you say, Christopher, I got the sense that this was just one element of his judicial reasoning in making this ruling
This was not a trial, it was a sentencing hearing. The jury was being specifically asked for a value judgement, more than a strictly legal one: should this person get a life sentence or a death? If state laws allows, should the possibility of parole be revoked? In the case of this multiple murder should the sentences be concurrent or sequential?
The law deliberately only specifies a range of allowable punishments, and often, especially in the case of capital offenses, sentencing guidelines for jurors.
Value judgements cannot be excluded from any jury trial, nor am I convinced they should be. Though I fear the cases of abuses outnumber
the benefits, I'm not convinced that they outweigh
them. A fundamental tenet in our country is that it is better to free several guilty people than to imprison an innocent one. Indeed, one reason we have jury trials instead of only judge trials is a fundamental acknowledgement, at the base of our system of justice, that different people will make different judgements of the facts, based on heir values and experience and that this is not only valid but in some way desirable
. One classic example would be civil disobedience: any person opposing an injustice through nonlegal acts should be willing to bear the full consequences of their acts, but I am certainly glad that they have the opportunity to present their reasoning to their fellow citizens, to be weighed.
Since in a sentencing, the jury is being asked to make value judgements to a greater degree than they are in a jury trial, and since for many people -possibly most- early religious training or current religious belief are the primary or even only value system they have that would cover such matters, the pretense of excluding religious values from sentencing can only be a cynical fraud. I say that as someone who is no fan of organized religion, despite having studied several major religious traditions in their original texts/languages.
There's been a Bible in just about every hotel room I've stayed in. Heck, the first Bible I ever owned was Gideon bible that was imprinted "take this with you, if you like". However, though I have studied the Bible, I can tell you that for all the attention it gets during my typical hotel stay, it might as well be a brick. If I were to open it, it'd be a conscious and deliberate choice on my part to confirm some element of a tradition I knew - just as I might read Buber, Rand, Annas, or Rawls.
There is absolutely nothing
in any law to prevent a lawyer from quoting the Bible in closing arguments (it's not even that terribly uncommon, in my limited experience as a juror) Nor is a a witness precluded from quoting it in testimony (though opposing counsel may object if s/he can find a ground); nor is a juror prevented from quoting it in the course of the free discussions of deliberations in the jury room. I can even point you at many landmark Supreme Court rulings that mention quotes from the Bible.
The use of a religious work in a legal proceeding does not invalidate it, though I agree it certainly should not carry the weight of the law, or anything near it.
As I see it, the problem is not that jurors consulted the Bible, per se, but that the Bible -and only the Bible- was left in the room of each juror as a potential influence, and that this is against the regulations and policy of that court. (It wasn't so very long ago that it wouldn't have been) It's a procedural error, and apparently it was successfully argued that it was a prejudicial one. However, in all candor, how many of us truly believe that the kind of juror who would be influenced by a Biblical injunction, with a man's life on the line, would be unaware of that particular Biblical injunction? It's ridiculously well known, esp. among those who'd care.
The potentially prejudicial influence lies in being locked in a room with a TV and a Bible (and only a Bible) all night, while weighing a heavy decision. I wonder how the judge would've reacted if a juror had requested a Quran or the works of John Stuart Mills? Oddly, I think he might be more inclined to allow the Quran!
I understand that more people draw their values from religion than formal philosophy, and I agree that the courts do try to mitigate undue influence of any religion, but the law does not try to strike it entirely from the consciences of the jurors - or for that matter, the accused or the witnesses.
I am, as I noted, I am no fan of organized religion. I am equally not a fan of "political correctness" (or the very notion that, in our nation, any individual or group should be able to establish themselves as unilateral arbiter of what is "correct" politically) The tenor of recent times has seen quite a few rulings, such as a circuit court striking down Ohio's state motto, "With God, All Things Are Possible,"
(while not daring to address the "In God we Trust" seen on many Federal seals and the Federal currency), or attempts to strike the flag of the Confederacy from state flags on the ignorant impression (disproved in every high school civics class) that the Civil War was solely or primarily about slavery and ignoring the historical lineage of that flags lineage before becoming the symbol of the Confederacy.
The left-facing swastika was a symbol of peace for thousands of years, among the Aryans, and is hallowed in the Indian subcontinent. What do you think would happen if I displayed it on my house? I would fear for my safety, even if I put up a sign, and explained on TV, that it is not the right-facing Nazi swastika, and I many educated people would cluck-cluck when I was attacked, calling my actions provocative and "asking for trouble". The same can be said of any mention of religion in a government setting, though every survey ever performed indicates that, as individuals, most
Americans rely strongly and consciously on religion.
Though, as I said, I respect your point, and it is supported by your evidence, To me, all of the above examples ring of false idealism on the part of the public (a falseness that judges making controversial rulings probably find it wise to pay homage to, and which journalists clearly select out to address. I am deeply troubled by such casual hypocrisy, because it can be (and often is) led in horrific directions by cynical leaders.
Maybe I'm wrong in considering this purely a procedural matter. But that'd help me sleep better at night.