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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  1. "Am I bugging you? I don't mean to bug ya." If what I wrote below is too much social philosophy for Indiana attorneys, just take ten this vacay to watch The Lego Movie with kiddies and sing along where appropriate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etzMjoH0rJw

  2. I've got some free speech to share here about who is at work via the cat's paw of the ACLU stamping out Christian observances.... 2 Thessalonians chap 2: "And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last."

  3. Did someone not tell people who have access to the Chevy Volts that it has a gas engine and will run just like a normal car? The batteries give the Volt approximately a 40 mile range, but after that the gas engine will propel the vehicle either directly through the transmission like any other car, or gas engine recharges the batteries depending on the conditions.

  4. Catholic, Lutheran, even the Baptists nuzzling the wolf! http://www.judicialwatch.org/press-room/press-releases/judicial-watch-documents-reveal-obama-hhs-paid-baptist-children-family-services-182129786-four-months-housing-illegal-alien-children/ YET where is the Progressivist outcry? Silent. I wonder why?

  5. Thank you, Honorable Ladies, and thank you, TIL, for this interesting interview. The most interesting question was the last one, which drew the least response. Could it be that NFP stamps are a threat to the very foundation of our common law American legal tradition, a throwback to the continental system that facilitated differing standards of justice? A throwback to Star Chamber’s protection of the landed gentry? If TIL ever again interviews this same panel, I would recommend inviting one known for voicing socio-legal dissent for the masses, maybe Welch, maybe Ogden, maybe our own John Smith? As demographics shift and our social cohesion precipitously drops, a consistent judicial core will become more and more important so that Justice and Equal Protection and Due Process are yet guiding stars. If those stars fall from our collective social horizon (and can they be seen even now through the haze of NFP opinions?) then what glue other than more NFP decisions and TRO’s and executive orders -- all backed by more and more lethally armed praetorians – will prop up our government institutions? And if and when we do arrive at such an end … will any then dare call that tyranny? Or will the cost of such dissent be too high to justify?

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