Statehouse prayer sequel?

November 19, 2008
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UPDATE Nov. 20: The ACLU of Indiana’s Ken Falk said today that the rumblings about Statehouse prayer he’s hearing are disconcerting and that the legislators’ actions will warrant a watchful eye. He didn’t say it, but another legal battle regarding prayer may be on the horizon.

From IL reporter Michael Hoskins: 

Within hours of the mostly ceremonial Organization Day when legislators returned to the Statehouse to kickoff their next session, one of Indiana’s leading lawmakers all but invited a sequel to the legislative prayer suit that tied up thousands of dollars and huge amounts of energy because of a prayer practice.

A year after the decision came down from the federal appeals bench, this issue could have gone with little notice to those outside the House and Senate chambers on Tuesday and what happened in 2005 didn’t have to stay on everyone’s minds as our elected leaders enter what is expected to be a tough budget-setting session. But some wouldn’t let it be.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana had filed suit in 2005 over the practice of opening the daily sessions of the General Assembly with prayer. Some were offended by the references to Jesus Christ. U.S. District Judge David Hamilton later decided that prayers couldn’t mention the name Jesus Christ or any Christian terms because that amounted to a state endorsement of a religion, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 30, 2007, reversed that decision and ordered the suit be dismissed. The appellate panel decided 2-1 not to rule on the constitutional merits but rather on procedural grounds that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to sue in the first place. Reacting at this time last year, the Senate opted to perform a prayer and pointed out the suit never applied to that body, while the House cautiously performed a non-sectarian prayer at this time last year in order to not step on toes. The ACLU warned it was going to stay on top of the issue, just in case.

Nothing has changed, except that the full 7th Circuit in the meantime decided not to rehear the case en banc. The issue could have gone under the radar this session, but former House Speaker Brian Bosma – whose office issued a news release at 4:12 p.m. Tuesday and described him as the one “targeted” by the 2005 ACLU suit – brought it all up again. Yes, both legislative bodies did open with a prayer during their afternoon meetings and that was open to anyone there at the time. But Bosma appears to have decided to make it an issue.

He comments in the news release: “I am thankful and grateful for Speaker (Pat) Bauer’s spirit of bipartisanship and inclusiveness in allowing a return to thoughtful and heartfelt prayers by people of diverse faiths. For more than 186 years men and women of faith have been allowed to open House sessions with their invocations of faith and hope. The free speech of all Hoosiers has been protected by returning to this honored practice.”

Allowing a prayer specific to one religion is a symbol of bipartisanship and inclusiveness? Really? Maybe the former speaker could clarify how exactly politics fits into someone wanting or not wanting a prayer at the start of a legislative session where state business will be discussed?

He adds, "The right of the General Assembly to decide its own procedure without judicial interference and the right of men and women to share their prayers and faith with the Indiana House of Representatives has been properly restored.”

It also may be worthwhile for Bosma to reexamine exactly what the 7th Circuit decided (or didn’t decide) when reversing and dismissing the case. The appellate panel did not rule on the constitutional merits, meaning the issue could still come up in some fashion. The ACLU of Indiana’s legal director Ken Falk said early this year, “I would hope that the House doesn't somehow think that this is a validation of the prayer practices.” Falk noted then that the civil liberties group would likely consider filing a new lawsuit with plaintiffs who come into contact with the prayers and who therefore might have legal standing, if the former practices resume.

Despite the fact that the legislative prayers did happen, Bosma seems eager to throw fuel on the fire and create a new legal battle on the same issue.
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  • here we go again. where is the sensitivity? if i am a Jew, a Hindu, a Muslim, an agnostic or a Wiccan and go into the legislature or the courts, how can i think i can get justice if everything is Jesus this and Jesus that....? the more the focus iremains on this as an issue, the more minorites will disrespect the process.
  • That is just it, if government officials feel the need to press their faiths into government activity who is to say they won\'t do the same on actual matters?
    This is why people are so turned off by Indiana. It isn\'t that we have Christian government officials, it is that we have officials that would press their beliefs on government activity that is supposed to be open to every Hoosier, not just Christian Hoosiers.
    I know many Christians who find this ridiculous and not appropriate.
    Religion is supposed to be appropriate. These officials make it seem like there is a war on Christianity.
    There isn\'t. It is an imaginary cultural war that is cuasing dangerous lashes against small groups.
    I do not ask that my government officials abandon their faith, by all means, practice what you believe and have faith in.
    All I ask is that my government do not serve just one group in the state.
    I ask that my government be secular so it can take care of everyone, not just Christian Hoosiers.
    Things like this prompt me to literally move to more progressive regions.
    As an agnostic I do not feel like these officials or the state government would defend any small group in this state.
    This is not a Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Athiest, or Agnostic nation,
    this is a nation of laws and reason.

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