ILNews

Plaintiffs can't sue over legislative prayer

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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In a long-awaited ruling from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals today, the former Indiana speaker of the House of Representatives came out the winner in a suit challenging prayers in the General Assembly sessions.

While former Speaker Brian Bosma has won this appellate round, a  2-1 panel of judges didn't touch the controversial merits of the case, and the case could still go to the United States Supreme Court.

The federal appellate court ruled today that plaintiffs who filed a suit against Bosma and the Indiana General Assembly for opening legislative sessions with a prayer do not have standing to sue. The court reversed and remanded Anthony Hinrichs, et al. v. Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Indiana General Assembly, Nos. 05-4604 and 05-4781.

Judges heard arguments from both sides in September 2006, which came following a November 2005 ruling by U.S. District Judge David Hamilton in the Southern District of Indiana that held 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.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana had sued in May 2005 on behalf of a retired Methodist minister, a lobbyist for a statewide Quaker group, and two Roman Catholics who objected to the practice of opening each legislative session with a prayer.

Circuit Judges Kenneth Ripple and Michael Kanne used those facts and relied on a plurality ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year that offered guidance on when taxpayers can sue. That case was Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc., 127 S. Ct. 2553 (2007).

In its decision, the Circuit judges noted that the legislative practice isn't mandated by statute. House Rule 10.2 merely provides that a prayer or invocation be given each meeting day before the House conducts any business. 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.

In a 23-page dissent, Circuit Judge Diane Wood argued her colleagues overextended caselaw and denied plaintiffs a day in court.

"In my view, the taxpayer-plaintiffs before us have alleged enough to win the right to present their challenge to the House Prayer before a judicial forum," Judge Wood wrote, noting this case is about whether plaintiffs are entitled to a judicial determination of how certain legislative rules and practices violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The majority judges didn't agree, though, noting, "We are well aware of the time and energy that the parties and the district court have expended on the merits of this matter."

Both sides have said previously that this case has the potential for an appeal to the nation's highest court; a decision on that could come in the next 90 days.
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  1. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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