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Friday, September 08, 2006

Ind. Decisions - Yesterday's arguments before the 7th Circuit in the legislative prayer case

Most of the stories the ILB has read yesterday and this morning about the oral arguments yesterday before the 7th Circuit in Hindrichs v. Bosma do not really cover the oral arguments, but simply rehash older reports.

An exception is this story this morning by Theodore Kim of the Indianapolis Star, dateline Chicago. Some quotes:

CHICAGO -- The federal appeals court panel hearing the Indiana House speaker's challenge to a ban on sectarian prayer in the legislature expressed reluctance to set a new precedent.

Judge Michael S. Kanne said Thursday that upholding the ban could "change the way that Congress operates," because federal lawmakers begin their sessions with prayers.

Kanne, along with presiding Judge Kenneth F. Ripple and Judge Diane P. Wood of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals are expected to decide in the next several months whether a lower court ruling that prohibits endorsing any particular religion during legislative prayer will stand.

Steffen Johnson, a lawyer for Speaker Brian C. Bosma, R-Indianapolis, told the three-judge panel the ban amounts to a restriction on the First Amendment right to free speech. * * *

But Ken Falk, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, told the judges the U.S. Supreme Court has "been quite clear that in a legislative session, religious speech, prayers, must be nonsectarian."

Both sides faced pointed questioning from the judicial panel.

In one exchange, Wood rebuffed the argument that legislative prayers should be considered "personal speech." She suggested that "proselytizing in the Indiana House in the speaker's box" is not the same as speaking while "standing on (one's) own front yard."

In that way, she suggested legislative prayers that blatantly push one religion over another are inappropriate.

Johnson, Bosma's attorney, disagreed, saying legislators speaking before their colleagues on legislative matters "realize they are speaking in their own voice. They are not necessarily speaking on behalf of the government." * * *

Thursday's arguments, before a packed courtroom on the 27th floor of the Dirksen Federal Building, marked the latest turn in a controversy that erupted last year. That's when civil liberties activists in Indiana sued Bosma to halt the legislature's practice of observing overtly Christian prayers before its daily sessions. * * *

So far, Indiana taxpayers, who are footing the bill for Bosma's appeal, have paid $67,000. Bosma said Thursday that legal bills are already "approaching $100,000.

Steve Walsh of the Gary Post-Tribune also has a story datelined Chicago. Some quotes:
The 7th Circuit covers Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. Two of the three judges hearing the case are originally from Indiana — Senior Judge Michael Kanne is from Lafayette and Presiding Judge Kenneth Ripple is from South Bend.

Judge Diane Wood, from Chicago, said ministers may have run afoul of separation of church and state when they referred to lawmakers as they would a congregation, using “we” as they invoked calls to God.

One problem with the coverage may be that the Court's recording of the oral arguments (i.e. the MP3) has not yet been posted on the 7th Circuit site. Watch for it here. (Yesterday at this time the recordings from the previous day already had been posted.)

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 8, 2006 08:21 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions