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Atheists Challenge State Jury System

August 12, 1987

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ A group of atheists has sued the state of Texas, claiming they have been systematically excluded from jury duty over the past decade because of their refusal to swear an oath to God.

Representatives of the Society of Separationists Inc., which operates as American Atheists Inc., allege that the oath requiring jurors to be sworn in ″so help me God″ violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

The suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, also challenges the card used to summon prospective jurors because it requires a person to state his or her religious affiliation or preference.

Representatives of American Atheists told a news conference that a motion would be filed later to extend the legal challenge to federal judicial oaths.

Madalyn O’Hair, founder and president emeritus of the Society of Separationists, said the 10-year period covers personal experiences. She said she had been summoned six times for possible jury service and had been dismissed each time.

″There is no need to call upon an imagined god to assist one in civic duties,″ the atheists said in a statement.″

Society President Jon Murray said state law does not provide for an alternate jury oath for prospective jurors. He also said most states do not require a prospective juror to state a religious preference.

Elna Christopher, spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox said the office had not yet received a copy of the suit and would have no comment.

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