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. This new language about a warning has not been discussed at previous meetings. It's not available online. Since it must be made public knowledge before the vote, does anyone know exactly what it says? Further, this proposal was held up for 5 weeks because members Carol and Lucy insisted that all terms used be defined. So now, definitions are unnecessary and have not been inserted? Beyond these requirements, what is the logic behind giving one free pass to discriminators? Is that how laws work - break it once and that's ok? Just don't do it again? Three members of Carmel's council have done just about everything they can think of to prohibit an anti-discrimination ordinance in Carmel, much to Brainard's consternation, I'm told. These three 'want to be so careful' that they have failed to do what at least 13 other communities, including Martinsville, have already done. It's not being careful. It's standing in the way of what 60% of Carmel residents want. It's hurting CArmel in thT businesses have refused to locate because the council has not gotten with the program. And now they want to give discriminatory one free shot to do so. Unacceptable. Once three members leave the council because they lost their races, the Carmel council will have unanimous approval of the ordinance as originally drafted, not with a one free shot to discriminate freebie. That happens in January 2016. Why give a freebie when all we have to do is wait 3 months and get an ordinance with teeth from Day 1? If nothing else, can you please get s copy from Carmel and post it so we can see what else has changed in the proposal?

  2. Here is an interesting 2012 law review article for any who wish to dive deeper into this subject matter: Excerpt: "Judicial interpretation of the ADA has extended public entity liability to licensing agencies in the licensure and certification of attorneys.49 State bar examiners have the authority to conduct fitness investigations for the purpose of determining whether an applicant is a direct threat to the public.50 A “direct threat” is defined as “a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services as provided by § 35.139.”51 However, bar examiners may not utilize generalizations or stereotypes about the applicant’s disability in concluding that an applicant is a direct threat.52"

  3. We have been on the waiting list since 2009, i was notified almost 4 months ago that we were going to start receiving payments and we still have received nothing. Every time I call I'm told I just have to wait it's in the lawyers hands. Is everyone else still waiting?

  4. I hope you dont mind but to answer my question. What amendment does this case pretain to?

  5. Research by William J Federer Chief Justice John Marshall commented May 9, 1833, on the pamphlet The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States written by Rev. Jasper Adams, President of the College of Charleston, South Carolina (The Papers of John Marshall, ed. Charles Hobson, Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2006, p, 278): "Reverend Sir, I am much indebted to you for the copy of your valuable sermon on the relation of Christianity to civil government preached before the convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Charleston, on the 13th of February last. I have read it with great attention and advantage. The documents annexed to the sermon certainly go far in sustaining the proposition which it is your purpose to establish. One great object of the colonial charters was avowedly the propagation of the Christian faith. Means have been employed to accomplish this object, and those means have been used by government..." John Marshall continued: "No person, I believe, questions the importance of religion to the happiness of man even during his existence in this world. It has at all times employed his most serious meditation, and had a decided influence on his conduct. The American population is entirely Christian, and with us, Christianity and Religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, and did not often refer to it, and exhibit relations with it. Legislation on the subject is admitted to require great delicacy, because freedom of conscience and respect for our religion both claim our most serious regard. You have allowed their full influence to both. With very great respect, I am Sir, your Obedt., J. Marshall."