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Sir , Hackney , March 5 , 1827 . From some of the publications sent me by my friends the Universalists of America , which I referred to in my former letter , ( p . 176 , ) and which I have since received , I learn that the competency of unbelievers , and even of some Christian believers , to serve as Jurors and to give evidence in courts of justice , lias been called in question in the United States of America .
The first case of this kind is thus related in The Philadelphia Universalist Magazine , Vol . II . p . 315 , in an extract from The American Watchman and Delaware Advertiser of Jan . 7 , 1823 : " In a trial in the court of Oyar and Terminer , held at Newcastle in November last , of a man indicted for * * * * , one of the Jury impannelled was , on his being called , challenged by the Attorney-General , who proceeded to shew cause for the challenge , by propounding to him , under the direction of the court , the following questions , and requiring his answers thereto :
" Q . 1 . Do you believe in the obligation of an oath ? " A . 1 . An honest man , to speak the truth , requires not an oath to bind him ; and a dishonest one will not be bound by an oath . " Q . 2 , Do you believe in the existence of a God ? " A . 2 . It appears reasonable to believe , that all things are governed by a superior intelligence rather than by a blind fatality . " The same question being repeated and a more direct answer required , Juror replied , " 2 . I do believe in the existence of a God .
" Q . 3 . Do you believe in a future state of rewards and punishments ? ¦ " A . 3 . I am ignorant of them . The subject is beyond my comprehension . " The Court , on hearing the answers of the Juror to the questions proposed , decided that he was incompetent to serve as one of the Jury . He was consequently rejected , although it was the prisoner ' s wish that he should pass between him and his country . *'
Another case of judicial bigotry , in which a witness was rejected on account of heresy , is described ( in an extract from the Boston Patriot ) in the Boston Universalists * Magazine , Vol . VII . pp . 113 , 114 . " In a case tried before Judge Hallowell and a special Jury , in the District Court of Philadelphia , Nov . 14 , a man was offered as a witness for the defendant , who , on being interrogated by the plaintiff '' s counsel as to his defendant , who , on being interrogated by the plaintiffs counsel as to his
religious belief , declared , that he did not believe in a future state of rewards and punishments after this life , but that the only punishment for sin was in the present state of existence . The Judge , after argument , refused to admit him to be qualified as a witness . He quoted in support of his opinion the decision of the Supreme Court of New York , as delivered by Chief Justice Spencer , that * no testimony is entitled to credit , unless delivered under the solemnity of an oath or affirmation which comes home to the conscience of
the witness , and will create a tie arising from his belief that perjury would expose him to punishment in the life to come ; on this great principle rest all our institutions , and especially the distribution of justice between man 1 , ,, A J J J ana . man . Upon this judgment , so unworthy of a functionary in a Free State , the editors of the work from which I have taken the extract , make the following remark , — " By the above decision , the honourable Judge informs the public , that had the man whom he would not admit to be sworn , been dishonest enough
* ( 262 " )
QUESTION OF THE COMPETENCY OF HERETICS AND UNttELIEVERS AS JURORS AND WITNESSES IN AMERICAN COURTS ,
Monthly Repository (1806-1838) and Unitarian Chronicle (1832-1833), April 2, 1827, page 262, in the Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition (2008; 2018) ncse.ac.uk/periodicals/mruc/issues/vm2-ncseproduct1795/page/30/