Indiana House Speaker appeals order to stop sectarian prayers

By, January 25, 2006.

Indiana legislators, led by House Speaker Brian Bosma, have appealed a federal judge's order to stop allowing sectarian prayers during legislative sessions. Speaker Bosma also asked District Judge David Hamilton to stay his order during the appeal, filed January 24th, but the judge refused, said Kenneth Falk, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana in an interview with "They may ask the appeals court for a stay," said Falk, who brought the case on behalf of four citizens and will continue to represent them during the appeal.

The Indiana House speaker voiced defiance of the decision last December by US District Judge David Hamilton, ruling that speakers cannot use the legislature's "public platform" to voice personal religious beliefs. Newspaper editorials disparaged the decision. There is only one Jewish state legislator.

Rabbi Jon Adland, is one of several Indiana religious leaders who contributed to the lawsuit. Adland, the rabbi of Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, a reform congregation, and the largest Jewish congregation in Indiana, filed an affidavit in the case.

The brief affidavit (which we have posted) analyzes elements of the prayers delivered from the podium during legislative sessions: "Given that Jews do not believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God or the Messiah, any reference in the prayers to "Jesus", "Christ", the "Son of God", or the Savior, are certainly not non-sectarian," Adland states. "If a prayer is to be given in this type of public setting, it should be inclusive of all those praying and sectarian prayer is not," Adland says in the affidavit.

The legislature had been giving its platform to many who professed and encouraged faith in Jesus Christ - a trend that only became clear when proceedings were posted on the Internet, said Kenneth Falk of the ACLU.

Asked about the prospects for Judge Hamilton's ruling in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Falk said it is "a small circuit with a small number of [relevant] cases" but those cases "have all gone our way."

He believes that sectarian prayer has become an issue in state houses around the country. "Some states have rules; some legislatures conduct sectarian prayers" and people in those states are considering court challenges, said Falk. He attributes some of the push for sectarian prayers to an "unconscious tyranny of the majority."

To read Rabbi Jon Adland's affidavit (a PDF document), please click here.

TOPIC: Church-State Separation > Government-sponsored Sectarian Prayer