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7th Circuit won't rehear prayer suit

January 15, 2008

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals won't rehear en banc Indiana's statehouse prayer suit.

An order came late Monday in Anthony Hinrichs, et al. v. Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Indiana General Assembly, No. 05-4604 and 05-4781, according to Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, who originally brought the suit almost three years ago.

Last fall, the ACLU had filed a rehearing petition on the heels of a 7th Circuit panel's decision Oct. 30 that plaintiffs didn't have standing to sue lawmakers about legislative prayer in May 2005.

The civil liberties organization had sued on behalf of four people objecting to the practice of opening each legislative session with a prayer. U.S. District Judge David F. Hamilton in Indianapolis had ruled the prayers couldn't mention the name Jesus Christ or any Christian terms because they amount to state endorsement of a religion. The court reversed that decision and ordered the federal suit be dismissed, but the ACLU asked for a rehearing en banc.

Falk said four judges - Judges Ann Claire Williams, Ilana Diamond Rovner, Diane P. Wood, and Terence T. Evans - voted in favor of rehearing the case. Not voting were Judges Joel Flaum and John D. Tinder; the latter just took the bench.

Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter said this decision backs up the state's position that legal precedent protects legislative prayer.

The ACLU has 90 days to decide whether to seek certiorari from the Supreme Court of the United States, Falk said. A decision hasn't yet been made, but Falk said the organization is actively watching the current legislative session and could be ready to file another suit should lawmakers open with sectarian prayer.

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