Indiana House Speaker Bosma files appeal brief

Document sidesteps concept of pluralism

by, May 18, 2006

Republican Speaker of the Indiana House Brian Bosma filed a brief in his appeal of a federal district judge's ruling barring prayers to Jesus during the chamber's official business. The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued to stop the sectarian prayers, must now respond to Bosma's brief.

The predominant theme in Bosma's 68-page appeal is that the courts, as a separate branch of government, cannot, as ordered by a federal district judge last winter, make theological judgments about what is or is not sectarian prayer in the legislature.

Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, told JewsOnFirst, "I don't agree that the [district] court decision reads that way." The court only ordered that the speaker inform guest clergy that their invocations must be nonsectarian, Falk said.

Bosma also argues that the people who brought the lawsuit do not have standing to sue because the money involved is negligible, limited to mailing invitations to the guest preachers.

According to an Indianapolis Star report, Bosma has hired an outside law firm and is also represented by the state attorney general. He said he might raise private funds for legal expenses -- or he might use public funds.

Bosma's arguments may seem frivolous and truculent. But given the increasingly right-wing composition of the courts, we think it would be a mistake to anticipate Bosma's loss.

In February, Bosma was forced to apologize to the Jewish community after a discussion on his prayer policy with Jewish leaders in which he disparaged the small size of the community and noted that Christians were over 80% of the state's population. His arguments in the appeal indicate that he really didn't understand what it was that upset Indiana Jews -- or that his apology was not sincere.

A quote attributed to Speaker Bosma in his news release also evidences a "tin ear" toward minority concerns about the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The quote expresses as well the hostile menace toward the federal courts that has come to typify the religious right.

For the first time in American history, a federal court has specifically prohibited state legislators and their invited guests from using the name of Jesus Christ in prayer. An overwhelming majority of House members and the public believe that this decision is overreaching and that this ruling into the internal practices of a co-equal branch of government by this court should not be allowed.

Bosma has posted the news release about his appeal and the brief on the state legislature's website. Not a big expenditure of public funds, but a telling one.

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