Publication Title

New York University Annual Survey of American Law


jury duty, religion

Document Type



While the concern over religiously devout Americans who wish to serve on juries is a serious one, a potential juror dismissed from service over his or her religiosity suffers a real but relatively abstract damage. The punishment is being sent home when they want to stay.

This Article examines a different issue with more severe consequences: religiously devout citizens who risk being jailed for refusing to serve on a jury. Rather than asking whether Jesus could serve on a jury, this Article addresses whether we should force Jesus to serve if he said God told him not to. More specifically, this Article addresses whether we should force those who refuse to serve to serve because they say Jesus told them not to serve to participate in jury duty nonetheless. In 2007, a plainly dressed young father of three was jailed in Texas because he failed to discharge his duties as a juror. As a matter of faith, this young man, a traditional Anabaptist (a Mennonite), refuses to utilize the court system, benefit from any insurance (even the required automobile liability insurance), receive government payments, or vote. Consistent with these beliefs, and out of the same sincere conviction that he is doing no more than what the teachings of Jesus require, he refused to vote as a juror. He was sentenced to thirty days in jail and served four.

This Article develops a proposed framework for a religious exclusion from jury service. Part I provides the background regarding why and how juries are impaneled. Part II describes the Anabaptist worldview in which jury service is inherently inconsistent with religious principles. Part III argues for the constitutional guarantee of a religious exemption from jury service. Part IV draws from the conscientious objector provisions of military law, laying out proposed criteria for a categorical exclusion of conscientious objectors to jury service.



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