Senate prayer draws ACLU's criticism

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Lawmakers met Tuesday for what is known as Organization Day, the first day of its 2008 session.

But the mostly ceremonial day wasn't without drama because the opening moments of one legislative body have sparked threats of a potential lawsuit reminiscent of a two-year-old federal suit that continues playing out in appeals. Indiana may soon see the second round of a legal battle involving legislative prayer.

The Indiana Senate opened its proceedings with a prayer to Jesus Christ, with Senate President Pro Tempore David Long allowing a colleague to pray from the chamber's podium. Within a day, that sparked legal threats from the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which had sued the House and then-Speaker Brian Bosma over a similar practice.

Ken Falk, legal director for the civil liberties organization, said that if the Senate continues using a prayer naming Jesus Christ, the group would likely be forced to sue on behalf of anyone subjected to or offended by the prayers.

"Everyone who stands at that podium knows that there are people who aren't praying in that fashion or share that religious belief. It's extremely rude for a legislator to issue a prayer that's exclusive in an area of the state that's supposed to be inclusive to everyone in Indiana."

The fact that the previous suit against the House is ongoing should have been further reason for the Senate to not issue a sectarian prayer, Falk said.

U.S. District Judge David Hamilton in Indianapolis ruled that sectarian prayers or those focusing on a particular religion weren't allowed, though the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decided last month that the taxpayers didn't have standing to sue and ordered the suit be dismissed on procedural grounds. However, the suit continues as the ACLU of Indiana is asking the appellate court to rehear the case en banc, possibly to get at the merits of the case.

The ACLU filed a request last week, and the Attorney General's Office has until mid-December to file a reply brief with the court.

In the meantime, legislative leaders in the House have taken the advice of Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter and used a non-sectarian prayer to start its proceedings.

"It's important to do that in order to comply with the order that's still in place from the District Court," Carter said. "While the 7th Circuit ordered it be lifted, the plaintiffs have filed for en banc review, which has the effect of staying the direction to the District Court."

Carter said that while the House is still under that original restriction, and the current Speaker's prayer was in compliance, the Senate isn't subject to any limitations and isn't involved in the ongoing litigation.

Falk agreed that the Senate was never constrained, but he said this type of prayer was exactly what Judge Hamilton had ruled against and that it wouldn't be allowed if a higher court eventually upholds that ruling.

"When we strip away the law and standing issues, it's just impolite and downright rude," Falk said. "If either body of the legislature begins sectarian prayers and we fall back into that pattern, we're back where we started."

Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  2. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.

  3. (A)ll (C)riminals (L)ove (U)s is up to their old, "If it's honorable and pro-American, we're against it," nonsense. I'm not a big Pence fan but at least he's showing his patriotism which is something the left won't do.

  4. While if true this auto dealer should be held liable, where was the BMV in all of this? How is it that the dealer was able to get "clean" titles to these vehicles in order to sell them to unsuspecting consumers?

  5. He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless [ ] Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. GOD BLESS THE GOVERNORS RESISTING! Count on the gutless judiciary to tie our children down and facilitate the swords being drawn across their throats. Wake Up America ...