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Senate prayer draws ACLU's criticism

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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Lawmakers met Tuesday for what is known as Organization Day, the first day of its 2008 session.

But the mostly ceremonial day wasn't without drama because the opening moments of one legislative body have sparked threats of a potential lawsuit reminiscent of a two-year-old federal suit that continues playing out in appeals. Indiana may soon see the second round of a legal battle involving legislative prayer.

The Indiana Senate opened its proceedings with a prayer to Jesus Christ, with Senate President Pro Tempore David Long allowing a colleague to pray from the chamber's podium. Within a day, that sparked legal threats from the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which had sued the House and then-Speaker Brian Bosma over a similar practice.

Ken Falk, legal director for the civil liberties organization, said that if the Senate continues using a prayer naming Jesus Christ, the group would likely be forced to sue on behalf of anyone subjected to or offended by the prayers.

"Everyone who stands at that podium knows that there are people who aren't praying in that fashion or share that religious belief. It's extremely rude for a legislator to issue a prayer that's exclusive in an area of the state that's supposed to be inclusive to everyone in Indiana."

The fact that the previous suit against the House is ongoing should have been further reason for the Senate to not issue a sectarian prayer, Falk said.

U.S. District Judge David Hamilton in Indianapolis ruled that sectarian prayers or those focusing on a particular religion weren't allowed, though the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decided last month that the taxpayers didn't have standing to sue and ordered the suit be dismissed on procedural grounds. However, the suit continues as the ACLU of Indiana is asking the appellate court to rehear the case en banc, possibly to get at the merits of the case.

The ACLU filed a request last week, and the Attorney General's Office has until mid-December to file a reply brief with the court.

In the meantime, legislative leaders in the House have taken the advice of Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter and used a non-sectarian prayer to start its proceedings.

"It's important to do that in order to comply with the order that's still in place from the District Court," Carter said. "While the 7th Circuit ordered it be lifted, the plaintiffs have filed for en banc review, which has the effect of staying the direction to the District Court."

Carter said that while the House is still under that original restriction, and the current Speaker's prayer was in compliance, the Senate isn't subject to any limitations and isn't involved in the ongoing litigation.

Falk agreed that the Senate was never constrained, but he said this type of prayer was exactly what Judge Hamilton had ruled against and that it wouldn't be allowed if a higher court eventually upholds that ruling.

"When we strip away the law and standing issues, it's just impolite and downright rude," Falk said. "If either body of the legislature begins sectarian prayers and we fall back into that pattern, we're back where we started."
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  1. It is amazing how selectively courts can read cases and how two very similar factpatterns can result in quite different renderings. I cited this very same argument in Brown v. Bowman, lost. I guess it is panel, panel, panel when one is on appeal. Sad thing is, I had Sykes. Same argument, she went the opposite. Her Rooker-Feldman jurisprudence is now decidedly unintelligible.

  2. November, 2014, I was charged with OWI/Endangering a person. I was not given a Breathalyzer test and the arresting officer did not believe that alcohol was in any way involved. I was self-overmedicated with prescription medications. I was taken to local hospital for blood draw to be sent to State Tox Lab. My attorney gave me a cookie-cutter plea which amounts to an ALCOHOL-related charge. Totally unacceptable!! HOW can I get my TOX report from the state lab???

  3. My mother got temporary guardianship of my children in 2012. my husband and I got divorced 2015 the judge ordered me to have full custody of all my children. Does this mean the temporary guardianship is over? I'm confused because my divorce papers say I have custody and he gets visits and i get to claim the kids every year on my taxes. So just wondered since I have in black and white that I have custody if I can go get my kids from my moms and not go to jail?

  4. Someone off their meds? C'mon John, it is called the politics of Empire. Get with the program, will ya? How can we build one world under secularist ideals without breaking a few eggs? Of course, once it is fully built, is the American public who will feel the deadly grip of the velvet glove. One cannot lay down with dogs without getting fleas. The cup of wrath is nearly full, John Smith, nearly full. Oops, there I go, almost sounding as alarmist as Smith. Guess he and I both need to listen to this again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRnQ65J02XA

  5. Charles Rice was one of the greatest of the so-called great generation in America. I was privileged to count him among my mentors. He stood firm for Christ and Christ's Church in the Spirit of Thomas More, always quick to be a good servant of the King, but always God's first. I had Rice come speak to 700 in Fort Wayne as Obama took office. Rice was concerned that this rise of aggressive secularism and militant Islam were dual threats to Christendom,er, please forgive, I meant to say "Western Civilization". RIP Charlie. You are safe at home.

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