On March 22, 2018, Rev. Tony Ponticello gave a talk to those assembled at the Community Miracles Center Sunday Service in San Francisco, California. Below is a lightly edited transcription of that talk.
Thank you so much, and thank you to all of you who are now watching on our YouTube channel. Thank you so much for watching our YouTube videos. We have wonderful YouTube videos. We make a video of every Sunday teaching that we have. We have done this for almost 2 ½ years now, so there are a lot of videos with wonderful speakers and wonderful teachings. Thank you again everybody who is joining us on ACIM Gather. And thank you also to those who are here, joining us in the audience in the body in San Francisco. (cheers) It’s great to see a nice turnout.
The title of my talk today is “My Day in Court.” This week I had my day in court. I had jury duty. Jury duty has been a unique challenge for me the whole time that I have been an A Course in Miracles student. I think it is a challenge for any A Course in Miracles student. Just what are you to do about that jury duty summons when it comes in the mail? How are you going to handle it?
I think everybody loves democracy. It’s a real common thing to love democracy. Many people believe that jury service and a trial by jury are foundational in our democracy. There is a predisposition to feel good about the system in this way. However the actuality of sitting in a jury box, and then having to declare a sister, brother, or fellow child of God “guilty” or “not guilty” is a dilemma. As we read from A Course In Miracles here a few minutes ago, it’s all about seeing our sisters, brothers, and holy children of God as “not guilty.”
Not only that but once you are on a jury, and let’s say the jury does declare the defendant “guilty,” then what comes next is that the judge decides on a punishment. So if there is a guilty verdict that is the preparation for a punishment being imposed by our society, by our government. I don’t think there is anyone who studies A Course in Miracles who would not see this as a problem. This is a little bit of a dilemma.
I love democracy. I want to do my civic duty. I don’t want to be an outcast in some way. Yet sitting in judgment of holy children of God and then declaring “guilty,” “not guilty,” and setting one up for punishment just doesn’t seem right. I could reread that whole reading we just had, because there are so many great lines in it. But the one that I want to remember, and that I like to tell a judge when I get that opportunity, is that my religion teaches me to “See no one, then, as guilty, and you will affirm the truth of guiltlessness unto yourself.” (OrEd.Tx.13.16)
I don’t want to be guilty, so I don’t want to see anyone else as guilty, and it does not matter what evidence the world can conjure up, because that evidence is just coming from our own minds. It’s a hallucination we are projecting onto the world from our own minds. It is still our job to see and declare “innocent,” or “not guilty,” with all of our holy children of God, sisters and brothers in Christ. That is what I tell the judge when I get in that position.
I’ve probably had the call to jury duty eight, ten times since I’ve lived in San Francisco, maybe more. It happens every couple of years it seems. It actually has been a little more regular in the modern computer age, I think. They missed me for a whole bunch of years when I first moved here. I’m in their system now.
It is a very interesting thing for me now. I found out that there is no way to opt yourself out of this process. At least I’ve not found a way. I don’t have any of the reasons to opt myself out of the process itself. The only way I can actually not sit on a jury is for me to get called into the jury box and have my time to talk with the judge. They go around and ask you certain questions. That’s when I can address the judge. I have tried every other way so I don’t have to do that, but none of them have worked. Maybe there are ways to opt out of the jury process but they haven’t worked for me.
It is an interesting thing, when you have that moment to talk to the judge. You also, in that moment, are talking to: the court clerk, the police officer who is there, the defense attorney, and the prosecuting attorney who is the attorney “representing the people.” I thought about that. I love that. The attorney who represents “the people” is from the district attorney’s office. You get a chance to address the defendant, any other lawyers who might be there, various assistants, and the entire jury pool that is there with you.
An interesting thing that I realized about this process is that people are paying attention. You know a lot of times in life when you talk, people are listening to other things or they don’t hear what is said. Being on a jury and in a courthouse is an unusual thing for most people. So they are actually paying attention. You can feel that and see that. You have everyone’s attention.
Now I have shifted how I think about jury duty. I don’t avoid it because I don’t want to serve on a jury. I don’t want to serve on the jury because of the spiritual / moral dilemma it puts me in. Yet I’ve learned to see the process now as an opportunity to give a little teaching, a little sermon, to people who I normally would not reach. These are not the usual people who would come to a Sunday Gathering like this, and I get to give this teaching and truth to a whole bunch of people that would probably not otherwise get this teaching.
Another thing to remember to tell the judge, or to tell yourself as you are getting ready for the process, is that A Course in Miracles tells us to “Attest his innocence and not his guilt.” (OrEd.Tx.27.6) That is what our religion teaches us.
This is one of the times when it would probably behoove you to think of it as your religion. When you get into the jury box if you say, “It’s my philosophy,” that isn’t going to mean much. You say “It’s my spiritual beliefs” that isn’t going to mean much either.
If you say “It’s my religion ...” because of the way our government honors religion and the separation of church and state, that actually means a whole lot more. We have the right to practice our religion, our religious freedoms. That has way more weight so I always frame it in that context. That is also the way I think of it, as you know. I do think of A Course in Miracles as my religion. In a jury box that is definitely advantageous if you are guided not to serve, which I am.
Now an interesting thing has evolved over the years of going to jury duty which I know a lot of you probably have done as well. Over the years they have become really savvy and it is interesting. They give you all kinds of teaching and propaganda when you go there. When you are sitting in the jury room waiting to get called, there are videos that get played. They are really well made videos. They are videos talking to people who were on juries with people saying what a great experience it was for them to be on the jury and how they feel in a more participatory mode with their government now. They didn’t want to in the beginning, and they go on and on and they give you this whole discussion. If your mind is open to it, it’s kind of convincing. I found myself wanting to serve.
Then you get into the courtroom and the judge gets on it. A lot of what the judge does during that whole first day of jury selection is give you a civics lesson on the judicial system. He tells you how important it is, and how important trial by jury is to our democratic system. Other countries that are democracies don’t have a trial by jury and they are still democracies, but it’s up to the judges to decide guilt or innocence. It’s not up to a jury of one’s peers.
I’m open to this civics lesson. I actually found it very effective. I think it was very effective for most of the people sitting there. Very few people want to serve on a jury. Nobody is really excited when they get that jury summons. In fact that was one of the first things the Judge asked. He said, “Who opened that jury summons and said ‘Oh boy, jury duty!’” (laughter) Nobody says that, but in the process of that whole indoctrination a message does come across, and I have to commend them for that. I think they are doing a really good job at getting people “psyched up” and at least open to serving on a jury. That’s great.
Yet I’m still not guided to serve on a jury. I’m truly not guided to serve on a jury because of what I’ve already said. It’s against my religious beliefs to declare somebody “guilty” and now ready to be punished. That’s only going to make me feel guilty. I am here to let go of guilt, not to reinforce guilt. At least that’s how I interpret things.
Another interesting thing happens when I go into a courtroom itself. I have observed that as much as it says in our Constitution that there is separation of church and state, what the state has done is sort of become a church. When you go into a courtroom, it’s a lot like church. I mean it really is a lot like church. The judge is there. He has a robe on; he is in authority. He’s doing his best to teach the people a philosophical message. It’s about morality. There are all the associated symbols of power. There are the flags and seals. There’s all this stuff. The judge has attendants. That is church. They are talking about high moral principles: right and wrong, good and bad.
Now something interesting happened this time. It didn’t happen two or three years ago. This “church” that is our court system, at least in San Francisco, is going through some hard times. They don’t have enough money. The Judge kept sharing with us about the budget cuts. In the courtroom they no longer have court reporters. He apologized to us for that. This little red light would show that a digital recording was being made, so that the attorneys – and whoever needed to – could refer to a proceeding that would be transcribed at a later time, but the courts can’t afford court reporters any more. The Judge apologized over and over for that.
The other thing he apologized for was that they had so many budget cuts – it was really funny to hear the Judge say this – they had so many budget cuts that they’ve had to do away with the court on Fridays. There is no more court on Friday. It’s Monday through Thursday, and that was a money saving change. Also for the very first time, and the Judge seemed genuinely upset about this, the county was forcing them to hear two cases a day in that courtroom. There is a morning case and an afternoon case. So even though we were on jury duty if we were on the morning case we would be let go before lunch and wouldn’t have to come back. He apologized for that.
Our court system needs some money, at least according to them. I thought it interesting that they are having to do with less. Actually, what it seemed like he was saying is they have had to compress things now. They’ve had to trim things and make them more streamlined and quicker. The old process was just costing them way too much money.
Now, my summons was for a criminal case. We were definitely going to be deciding “guilty” or “not guilty,” but there are civil cases also. Civil cases are not declaring “guilty” or “not guilty” but they are declaring responsibility and financial liability. I have been called in on those cases too, and the similar basic concept applies. We study a religion – it’s better if you call it a religion – A Course in Miracles that teaches every person is 100% responsible for every single thing that happens to them. Nobody else is truly responsible. Nobody has ever been truly victimized by anybody. To say that this first person is responsible for what happened to this second person, and this first person owes this second person money to make up for the responsibility, is also against our religion.
One of the quotes I use for that is, “It is impossible that the happenings that come to him were not his choice. His power of decision is the determiner of every situation in which he seems to find himself…” (OrEd.Tx.21.17) So even though the appearance is of victimization and that something happened to someone against his or her will, the truth is somehow that someone did cause it. They did set it up. They are one-hundred percent responsible in a civil case too, at least for me. Other people may have different guidance.
As I said, I used to not want to serve on jury duty. A large part of this was that I was busy. It is a huge imposition on your time. Suddenly your life has to go on hold while you are there in the jury box. But I’ve shifted on that. I’m always busy. If I were to say that I was busy, there would need to be something to compare one part of my life to a different part of my life. So that’s beginning to break up in my mind. It wouldn’t matter. I’d be just as busy if I didn’t have the jury duty to contend with.
As I said a little earlier there is the shift which has now happened. I realized that I am there to deliver a little seed of a message. And I must say this time, I got to deliver that message better than I have at other times. Not only did I get a chance to talk to the Judge – tell the Judge how I am a spiritual religious man – but also to everyone else there. My name is “Reverend Tony.” When they read my name, they have to say “Reverend Tony” because that’s my name. Then they ask you to state your occupation. I said I am the head minister of a church in San Francisco. I have that going in my favor too. Then I got to say my whole deal with the Judge.
They don’t release anybody really quickly. After I spoke, the defense attorney got to question me. I was always a little curious as to why the defense attorney was wanting to question me so much and get me to talk. I would actually think with my predisposition to want to see people as not guilty that I’d be pretty good for the defense. I would be what the defense would want – I would be a juror who would want to see their client as not guilty.
I was talking to someone else about this who had a different perspective on our jury system. He gave me a little clue why the defense attorney would be grilling me so much. He says for one, the defense attorney knows you are going to get dismissed. That’s a foregone conclusion. The district attorney representing the people isn’t ever going to let you sit on this jury, but while you are in there, the defense attorney is going to use you to communicate a message that might influence some of the people who will serve. The defense attorney will want you to talk about why everyone is not guilty. That can put a seed of doubt into people’s minds about the whole process, and the defense attorney wants that seed of doubt to be sown. So I got it.
You can lead a juror. The selection of jurors is not like a trial where you can’t “lead a witness,” but the attorneys can lead the prospective jurors. That’s not part of the actual trial. They can ask questions leading jurors in a certain direction. So the defense attorney wanted me to expound about my spiritual beliefs and why I couldn’t see someone as guilty. The defense attorney wanted to know what that meant to me.
So I got to talk a little. I said I was hesitant to get into a detailed discussion because it was religious. I said that we practice a metaphysical religion. We believe our thoughts are creating our reality. Even if there is evidence, or so called evidence that seems to prove something, we just see that evidence as an hallucination coming from our own minds, so we are taught to discount it.
You know me; I got to say that. I project my voice, and I’m articulate. Therefore, everybody in that court room got to really hear it. Some of the other prospective jurors had soft voices, or they were not as articulate, or not practiced speakers. They didn’t get heard as much. But everyone in that courtroom heard me speak about my religious beliefs.
It was also interesting to me that when they went to talk with another juror, she referred back to what I was saying. The other juror who was a woman, she said “I thought it was really interesting what number 18 said (that was me). I’ve heard that other places and it is a very interesting perspective. I want less guilt in the world and the idea that I could just choose that interests me.” I thought then, this D.A., this district attorney, was not going to want me on the case. My point of view could influence other people on the case, the other jurors. The district attorney is going for a “guilty” verdict, not a “not guilty” verdict.
I do want to get out of jury duty for other reasons too. I have anxiety issues. Being confined in a jury room is really sort of strange. You know we live in this free society, but your freedom gets taken away from you all of a sudden when you are called for jury duty. We are living in a free society, sort of, but then you have to go into that room and you have to go into that process. You can’t opt out of it, and you can get tied up for weeks, even months. Your life could really be put on hold when you are on jury duty, and that could cause all kinds of problems. I felt like my freedom was getting taken away, and it felt strange. It used to produce anxiety.
Thankfully, I didn’t have that experience this time. I was pretty confident that I would eventually get released, and I was really grateful that I was part of the first group that got called into the jury box. Sometimes I’ve had to go back the next day because they were still calling people into the jury box and you don’t get a chance to plead your case until you are in the jury box. So I was actually happy when I was part of the first group that went in there. At least I could get through this right away.
I was a little miffed for a minute though. I thought at least they could have released me before lunch, but they didn’t. No one was released before lunch. Then I was walking and looking for somewhere to get lunch. The Hall of Justice is right by the San Francisco Flower Mart. There is this little restaurant at the Flower Mart at the intersection of 6th and Brannan that I’ve always wanted to eat at. They are only open during the day. It’s called Buchelli’s Flower Market Cafe. Somebody once told me it was really good. I was like “Wow! I’ll go eat at Buchelli’s! I’ve always wanted to do that.” So I got to fulfill that little ego thing. I had a nice lunch. I had a burger. Then I went back in the courtroom and they released me after that.
Another person was released from jury service at the same time. She came right up to me as we left. She said “It was very interesting what you said. Tell me a little more about your church.” I gave her the information and a business card. As I said, I get to see this not just as I’m trying to get out of jury duty because it’s unpleasant, or because it’s against my religion. I get to see it as a very interesting opportunity to preach to people who I normally wouldn’t reach. It was fascinating. I really appreciated my day in court.
The truth is our whole judicial system, our whole jail system, the way we incarcerate so many people, has resulted in us having one of the highest incarceration rates of any civilized country. We may even have the highest. (From the audience, “Any civilization in the history of man.”) “Any civilization in the history of man” you mean, (Rev. Tony is addressing the person who spoke) the highest incarceration rate ever? (From same person in audience, “No joke.”) “. . . any civilization in the history of man.”(laughter) Those judges they are doing a really good job at indoctrinating us into this is a system, aren’t they?
I remembered this quotation from A Course in Miracles,“Who could be set free while he imprisons anyone? A jailer is not free, for he is bound together with his prisoner. He must be sure that he does not escape, and so he spends his time in keeping watch on him. The bars which limit him become the world in which the jailer lives, along with him. And it is on his freedom…” That would be the jailer’s. “…that the way to liberty depends for both of them.” (OrEd.WkBk.192.8)
So we have a system that logically sounds good. It’s democracy and we like that, but it incarcerates more people than of any previous civilization in history. These are brothers, sisters, and holy children of God in Christ, and they are us. They are us. So – do whatever you are guided to when you get that jury summons in the mail, but maybe you will remember some of the things I said today. If you can truly absorb them, and take A Course in Miracles on as your religion, you have a good case in front of the judge.You just might have your day in court.
Amen. Thank you. (applause) ♥
Rev. Tony Ponticello is CMC's 20th minister. He currently serves as the CMC's Executive Minister (09.13.2021). He is also the President of the CMC Board of Directors. He was ordained by the CMC on Oct. 17, 1997.
c/o Community Miracles Center
San Francisco, CA 94147
This article appeared in the May 2018 (Vol. 32 No. 3) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.