Thursday, March 31, 2005


In its mandatory "diversity training" classes, a school district has instructed students who believe homosexual behavior is wrong to keep their opinions to themselves, prompting a federal lawsuit. The Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund filed a motion for preliminary injunction [PDF file] yesterday to immediately prohibit the Boyd County, Kentucky, Board of Education from restricting the free-speech rights of its students. "We are filing this motion because students are being forbidden from expressing their own viewpoint on this matter," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Kevin Theriot. "That's unconstitutional, and it must stop." The motion was filed in a Feb. 15 lawsuit brought by Timothy Allen Morrison and other students and their parents against the education board.

The training itself began as a result of the settlement of another lawsuit filed against the board by the Boyd County High School Gay-Straight Alliance, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. "The school district is attempting to change the beliefs of students without their parents' consent," Theriot said. "The provisions of any settlement arrangement must respect the constitutional rights of students."

All middle and high school students in Boyd County schools are required to attend the special training. School policies and practice do not permit parents to opt their children out of the training, even if it violates their personal beliefs and morality, ADF said.



Colorado's highest court has quashed the sentence of a man who was given the death penalty after jurors consulted their Bibles in reaching a verdict. The court said Bible passages, including the verse that commands "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth", could lead jurors to vote for death. The Bible, the court said, constituted an improper outside influence and a reliance on what the court called a "higher authority". "The judicial system works very hard to emphasise the rarefied, solemn and sequestered nature of jury deliberations," the majority panel of the Colorado Supreme Court said in a 3-2 decision. "Jurors must deliberate in that atmosphere without the aid or distraction of extraneous texts."

The ruling involved the conviction of Robert Harlan, who was found guilty in 1995 of raping and murdering a cocktail waitress, Rhonda Maloney, near Denver. After she was kidnapped and raped by Harlan, Ms Maloney managed to escape and flag down a motorist, Jaquie Creazzo. Harlan caught up with the two women, shot Ms Creazzo, leaving her paralysed for life, then beat and killed Ms Maloney.

After Harlan's conviction, the judge - as Colorado law requires - sent the jury to deliberate about the death penalty with an instruction to think beyond the narrow confines of the law. Each juror, the judge said, must make an "individual moral assessment", in deciding whether Harlan should live or die. The jurors voted unanimously for death.

The state Supreme Court's decision changes that sentence to life in jail without parole. The dissenting judges said the jurors consulted their Bibles not to look for facts or alternative legal interpretations but for wisdom. "The biblical passages the jurors discussed constituted either a part of the jurors' moral and religious precepts or their general knowledge, and thus were relevant to their court-sanctioned moral assessment," the minority wrote.

Harlan's lawyers challenged the sentence after discovering five jurors had looked up Bible verses, copied some of them down and then talked about them behind closed doors. Prosecutors said jurors should be allowed to refer to the Bible or other religious texts during deliberations.


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