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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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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