- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. says the Supreme Court should at some point take up the issue of whether jurors can be dismissed because of their religious beliefs.

His comment came as part of a Missouri case in which a lesbian sued her employer, the Missouri Department of Corrections, arguing the department violated the Missouri Human Rights Act, which bans sex discrimination. Jean Finney claimed she was stereotyped based on her sex and her decision to present herself as a masculine lesbian.

Two jurors who voiced religious concerns about homosexuality were removed from consideration.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case last week, and Justice Alito wrote an opinion agreeing with that decision, saying the case was complicated by other factors. But he signaled the high court will likely have to confront the issue at some point.

“When a court, a quintessential state actor, finds that a person is ineligible to serve on a jury because of his or her religious beliefs, that decision implicates fundamental rights,” he wrote in his Feb. 20 statement. 

It would have taken four justices to vote in favor of hearing the case for oral arguments to have been scheduled.

Justice Alito agreed that the court shouldn’t take up this dispute because of a state law procedural issue where the Missouri Department of Corrections did not preserve an objection to the dismissal of the jurors. 

But he noted he was concerned that discrimination based on religion would follow the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

“[This Missouri] 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,” Justice Alito wrote. “The opinion of the Court in that case made it clear that the decision should not be used in that way, but I am afraid that this admonition is not being heeded by our society.”

In the Missouri case, Ms. Finney’s lawyer asked jurors if they attended a conservative church with views against homosexuality. The two jurors removed from serving due to their religion both clarified they believe everyone is capable of sinning.

The state appeals court had upheld their removal, suggesting they would not be able to serve impartially. 

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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