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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit to hear oral arguments in legislative prayer case Thursday [Updated]

Mary Beth Schneider of the Indianapolis Star reports, in a story just posted headed "Lawmakers seek donations for prayer appeal," that:

The Indiana House of Representatives will soon start raising money to help pay for the cost of appealing a federal judge's decision barring prayers specific to any particular religion, including Christianity, in the legislature.

A federal appeals court panel of three appellate judges will hear arguments on that case at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in Chicago.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said that a Washington, D.C.-based law firm, Winston & Strawn, will present the lawmakers' arguments in that hearing. So far, he said, the legal bills have come to about $67,000, but that does not include any of the work preparing for Thursday's hearing.

He expects money raised from the public to defray those costs, currently being paid for by taxpayer-funds out of the House budget.

In addition to the parties' briefs in this case, Hinrichs, Anthony v. Bosma, Brian., over a dozen amicus briefs have been filed with the court by various interest groups. Access them all here, via the 7th Circuit website.

For background, see this May 12th ILB entry.

[Updated] Mike Smith of the AP reports this afternoon. Some quotes:

Indiana House leaders will seek private donations in their efforts to overturn a federal judge's ruling restricting opening prayers in the body's Statehouse chambers, House Speaker Brian Bosma said Tuesday.

The money would help defray costs of paying a private law firm tax dollars to defend a case set to be heard by a panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on Thursday. Bosma also said that in a rare instance, the U.S. Department of Justice is weighing in on a legislative prayer case and will argue on the side of the speaker.

"It is my understanding that they and members of Congress are quite concerned about the impact of this case on the 225-year practice of free prayer in Congress," said Bosma, R-Indianapolis. He said he has heard from hundreds of state and local officials from Indiana and other states who have encouraged a strong defense of the prayers. * * *

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana challenged the prayer practices on behalf of four Christians who said the tradition of usually Christian prayers offended them. Ken Falk, the ACLU of Indiana's legal director, has said the prayers violate a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court ruling permitting only nonsectarian prayer before a legislative session.

But Bosma said Tuesday that there is strong disagreement among legal scholars about the interpretation of that ruling. The House policy encouraged prayers to be ecumenical, but Bosma said he refused to tell clergy or lay people what they could say in prayers at the podium.

"I think that's the fundamental question here: Who decides how an individual prays on the floor of the House - a federal court judge or our 189-year tradition of praying in accordance with one's conscience and heart?" Bosma said.

He said clergy of non-Christian faiths also had delivered opening prayers in the past. But of 53 such prayers during the 2005 session, 41 were given by clergy identified with Christian churches and at least 29 mentioned Jesus Christ.

An attorney from the Washington-based law firm of Winston & Strawn will argue on behalf of Bosma's appeal. The Indiana attorney general's office represented the House before the district court and remains part of the defense team, but the private firm specializes in First Amendment cases before appeals courts, Bosma said.

The firm has been paid at least $67,000 in tax money from the Indiana House budget so far, Bosma said. But he said House staff was creating a way for people to make private donations for a case he predicted ultimately would be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 5, 2006 03:18 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions