Wednesday, March 24, 1999

Christian Coalition backs judge's quoting Bible

Brief asks court to reinstate rapist's sentence

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Christian Coalition of Ohio is taking up the cause of a Hamilton County judge who quoted the Bible in court.

        In a legal brief filed with the Ohio Supreme Court, the coalition argues that Judge Melba Marsh did not vio late the rights of a convicted rapist when she read a Bible verse before sentencing him.

        The “friend of the court” brief urges the justices to overturn an appeals court ruling that threw out the sentence.

        “The Christian Coalition's position is that religion, especially Christianity, is one of the most commonly discriminated-against parties in our society,” said the group's attorney, David Langdon. “Judges shouldn't have to check their religious rights at the courthouse steps.”

        Last year, James Arnett pleaded guilty in common pleas court to raping the 8-year-old daughter of his fiancee. Before sentencing Mr. Arnett to 51 years in prison, Judge Marsh said she had struggled with the seriousness of the offense and because Mr. Arnett had been molested as a child.

        For guidance, she said, she turned to the Bible and found Matthew 18:5-6:

        “And whosoever shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me. But whosoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it would be better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

        Mr. Arnett, 33, persuaded the Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals last month to throw out his sentence, arguing that the judge was influenced by her religious beliefs.

        But Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court earlier this month, arguing the appeals court ruling effectively bars the use of religious references in court, even when those references do not unfairly influence the judge.

        The Christian Coalition goes a step further, saying the ruling sends the message that “there is no place for a faith in God in the public square.”

        “Surely it is not the position of the court of appeals that every time the court has a witness place her hand on a Bible before she is sworn in, that this constitutes an impermissible use of religion,” the coalition states in its brief.

        Before the high court will hear arguments in the case, the justices must determine whether it has great general interest or involves a substantial constitutional question.

        The coalition's brief argues that the case could have major implications not only on the legal system, but also on religious freedom.

        The justices could take weeks or even months to decide whether they will take the case.


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