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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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