On Tuesday, February 20, 2024, U.S. News reported that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to decide if excluding jurors based on their religious beliefs about homosexuality is lawful. This came after a Missouri state agency appealed a workplace discrimination lawsuit ruling in favor of the plaintiff, Jean Finney.

Finney, who is a lesbian, had sued her longtime employer – the Missouri Department of Corrections – claiming she faced discrimination and retaliation at work after beginning to date a former female colleague’s ex-wife. A jury in 2021 sided with Finney and awarded her $275,000 in damages for sexual discrimination and a hostile work environment.

During jury selection in the trial, Finney’s lawyers asked potential jurors questions about their religious views on homosexuality in an effort to identify any biases. Three jurors stated that as Christians, they believe homosexuality is a sin. Judge Kate Schaefer of Missouri initially said two jurors appeared they could remain impartial. However, she agreed to the plaintiff’s lawyers’ request to exclude all three, erring on the side of caution.

State officials objected, worrying this could constitute religious discrimination. Nonetheless, Judge Schaefer removed the three jurors, finding their views on homosexuality were key to the case. After losing the trial, the Missouri Department of Corrections appealed, arguing the removals violated those jurors’ right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment.

A Missouri appeals court disagreed and upheld the trial ruling, finding the jurors were excluded based on their stances on homosexuality, not because of their religion. The state Supreme Court then denied a further appeal. Officials brought the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court, asserting equal protection should extend to religious freedom as well.

At the high court, Missouri officials conceded exclusion would be allowed if specific religious beliefs caused proven bias. However, it argued simply being Christian should not have disqualified the three jurors. The Supreme Court, with its conservative majority, has strengthened religious freedoms in recent cases but chose not to settle this question.

By declining the case, the legality of removing potential jurors solely due to religious views conflicting with crucial case issues remains undecided nationwide. The high court punted without ruling one way or another. For now, the $275,000 ruling in favor of the lesbian plaintiff from Missouri stands.

 

 

Source: U.S. News