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ACLU: Full court should rehear prayer case

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana wants the full 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider a case involving legislative prayer.

The civil liberties organization Wednesday filed a petition for rehearing en banc in Anthony Hinrichs v. Speaker of the House of Representatives, No. 1:05-cv-00813. This request comes about two weeks after a three-judge circuit panel ruled that plaintiffs didn't have standing to sue lawmakers over legislative prayer and ordered that the federal suit be dismissed.

The Hoosier ACLU had sued in May 2005 on behalf of four people who objected to the practice of opening each legislative session with a prayer. U.S. District Judge David Hamilton in the Southern District of Indiana ruled that invocations offered in the Indiana House of Representatives could not mention Jesus Christ or use Christian terms such as savior because they amount to state endorsement of a religion.

But the Oct. 30 7th Circuit ruling reversed the District Court decision, though it didn't touch on the merits of the case.

In its decision, Circuit Judges Kenneth Ripple and Michael Kanne in the majority noted that the legislative practice isn't mandated by statute and that plaintiffs weren't able to point to any specific amount of money spent on the practice and that other than costs related to broadcasting online, nothing spent was directly related to the content of the prayers provided.

But legal counsel Ken Falk disagrees, writing that the panel's decision conflicts with precedent from the Supreme Court of the United States and its own past decisions.

"Consideration by the full court is therefore necessary to secure and maintain uniformity of the court's decisions," the 22-page brief says, delving into several cases it says were misinterpreted. "The panel decision has overruled the requirements for state taxpayer standing as developed by the Supreme Court ... This is beyond the prerogative of this Court and en banc review must be granted to remedy this error."

Falk notes that the plaintiff-taxpayers have brought a "good faith pocketbook action" to challenge clear Establishment Clause violations and have standing to sue.

Judge Diane Wood was the sole dissenter on the original panel and argued her colleagues overextended caselaw and denied plaintiffs a day in court. It would take a majority of the 11 active judges to rehear the case before the full court.

No clear timeline exists for the court to consider the request, but it could ask the state to submit a response brief. Both sides have said previously they expect this case to eventually be appealed to the nation's highest court.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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