The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Can a Bible be Used by a Jury?

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On April 20, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a challenge from a Texas death row inmate who claimed his constitutional rights were violated because the jurors consulted the Bible in the sentencing phase of the trial. The jurors consulted a passage that stated that a murderer who used an iron object to kill should be executed: “But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death” (Num. 35:16). The defendant Khristian Oliver was found guilty for shooting and bludgeoning his victim to death with the barrel of a gun.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned a convicted murderer’s death sentence because the prosecutor was said to have wrongfully quoted the Bible in his closing arguments.1 Karl S. Chambers was convicted of fatally beating 70-year-old Anna May Morris while robbing her of her Social Security money. District Attorney H. Stanley Rebert told the jurors, “Karl Chambers has taken a life. As the Bible says, ‘And the murderer shall be put to death.’”2 In many (maybe most) courts, witnesses are required to swear an oath to tell the truth. Judges are sworn in with their hand on a Bible. While doing this, their left hand is on a Bible. Presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush, with the exception of Thomas Jefferson, took the oath of office with a hand on the Bible. The response is simple and direct: “So Help me God.”

Upon hearing the nonsense from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Mr. Rebert stated, “I don’t know of any God-fearing prosecutor that has not used some scriptural or religious reference in arguing to a jury. God’s law is the basis for Pennsylvania law and all law.”3

What if the prosecuting attorney had asserted that murder is wrong by making a reference to the Bible? Why is murder wrong? If there is no God, there are no rules. Survival of the fittest prevails. If I, as a consistent evolutionist, were defending Mr. Chambers during his resentencing hearing based on the ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, my line of argument would go something like this:

Defense Attorney (DA): Mr. Chambers, did you go to public school?
Chambers: Yes, sir.
DA: Did you have a class in biology?
Chambers: Yes, sir.
DA: Were you taught that man evolved over long periods of time and that the strongest organisms survived over the weaker ones?
Chambers: Yes, sir.
DA: Did you learn that these were the natural and positive consequences of evolution?
Chambers: Yes, sir.
DA: Were you taught the Bible in public school?
Chambers: No, sir! It was not permitted. In fact, we were told it was a book of superstitions and myths. We were to reason our way to truth.
DA: So you weren’t taught the sixth commandment?
Chambers: I’ve never heard of the “sixth commandment.”
DA (to the jury): Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury. You spent your tax dollars educating this young man. It’s been said that our students are not learning what they’ve been taught. Now we find out that when a person does master his lessons, we put him on trial. You are here today because some strong ancestor eliminated a weaker ancestor on the evolutionary tree. We are proud of our evolutionary heritage. Look how far we’ve come due to the elimination of so-called “weak links.” How can Mr. Chambers be faulted when he simply followed the science of evolutionary fact, not theory, that he learned in school. In addition, you heard the prosecuting attorney in the first trial tell us, “As the Bible says, ‘And the murderer shall be put to death.’” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has overturned Mr. Chambers’ death sentence because the prosecutor quoted from the Bible. The same Bible that says that a “murderer shall be put to death” also states that murder is wrong. If the Bible is inadmissible in the one case, specifying punishment, then it ought to be inadmissible in the other case, specifying what constitutes a crime.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “We make men without chests and we expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and we are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”4 We strip men and women of the certainty that they are created in the image of God, and we are surprised when they act like the beasts of the field.


1. The Marietta Daily Journal (November 9, 1991), 6A.
2. “Court Rejects Bible,” The Atlanta Journal (November 16, 1991), E6.
3. “Court Rejects Bible,” E6.
4. C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan, [1947] 1972), 35.

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