Islamic Law in U.S. Courts: United States v. Miller (W.D. Wash. 1916): Swearing Oaths in Court

Holding: Any religious belief, whether Christian or not, that recognizes the existence of a God who rewards truth and avenges falsehood, either in this or a future life, is sufficient as a basis on which to swear a witness in court.

Procedural posture: Objection to competency of a witness. Islamic law is not directly relevant, except that the court notes that “a Mohammedan [may be sworn] on the Koran” and considers Muslims to be acceptable sworn witnesses based on beliefs akin to those of Christianity and cognate religious traditions.

Judgment: Objection sustained in an opinion authored by Judge Neterer.

Facts: The government offered a Mr. Kirkland as a witness in a criminal case being heard in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. The defendant objected, on the grounds that Kirkland could not be sworn because he did “not believe in the existence of a God, who is the rewarder of truth and the avenger of falsehood,” having admitted as much when questioned. Judge Neterer found the common law rule to be that a witness may only be sworn if he believes in a God who rewards truth and avenges falsehood. This need not be a Christian belief; Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Chinese may similarly be sworn, because they fulfill these criteria. Because Kirkland does not believe in a God who rewards truth and avenges falsehood, the Court concluded that he may not be sworn and the objection was sustained.

Read the case.