Thursday, December 29, 2005

Judge Hamilton Turns Down Bosma's Motion

Federal district court judge David Hamilton turned aside House Speaker Brian Bosma’s motion to reconsider his prior ruling that sectarian prayers cannot be delivered by clerics at the opening of each business day of the Indiana House of Representatives first reports Indiana Daily Insight. His denial of the motion was not a surprise. The 19-page length of it was though.

Bosma’s main argument was that Judge Hamilton’s injunction should have limited the prohibition on sectarian prayers to those paid for with public funds. Hamilton dismissed the argument, citing 7th Circuit precedent for the proposition that the standing limitation of the party bringing the action does not necessarily limit the scope of the court’s ruling. The practice is unconstitutional whether public funds are used or not,” Hamilton said. [T]he law authorizes the court to order an end to the unconstitutional practice,” he added.

Judge Hamilton did not take too kindly to Bosma’s arguments that his injunction should have been limited to opening prayers rather than reaching any official House prayers, and that the injunction was not sufficiently specific. Bosma’s arguments included several hypotheticals, one of which suggested Hamilton’s injunction was limited only to Christian prayers. Hamilton derisively responded to Bosma’s hypothetical:

The Speaker asks whether the injunction concerning sectarian prayers is limited to “Christian denominations,” and “whether denomination in this context refers to Christendom as a whole, or is more limited and means only that there should be no appeals on behalf of Methodism, Presbyterianism, or Roman Catholicism, for example.” This latter question seems to reflect almost a willful obtuseness (emphasis added). As is evident throughout the opinions of this court and other courts addressing official prayers, official prayers that endorse Christianity in general violate the Establishment Clause. The Establishment Clause is not limited to preferences for particular Christian denominations. The Supreme Court has explained that the Establishment Clause “means at the very least that government may not demonstrate a preference for one particular sect or creed (including a preference for Christianity over other religions). ‘The clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.’” The injunction is not limited to sectarian Christian prayers, either by its terms or by its reasoning. The court focused its findings and conclusions on Christian prayers, of course, because the evidence here shows a pattern of Christian prayer. For the same reason, the court provided more specific guidance in the injunction as to when a prayer is a sectarian Christian prayer. There was no evidence of any prayers that were identifiable as Jewish or Muslim or specific to any other particular religion. The constitutional principles, however, apply to a government endorsement or promotion of any religion.

Judge Hamilton also made it clear that his injunction does not require the Speaker to either review the text of prayers in advance, or interrupt the prayers of clergy which go too far. He said:

Perhaps most important, the Speaker has asked what the court expects him to do to comply with the injunction: must he review scripts in advance of a prayer, and should he interrupt a prayer that goes too far? The text of the injunction does not
require either step, and that silence is deliberate.

Hamilton did remind Bosma that he needed to be more pointed in the letters he sends to invited clergy instructing them on appropriate prayers before the House. “Those letters have not been sufficient to avoid a pattern of sectarian prayers advancing the Christian religion,” Hamilton said.

Bosma is now expected to proceed with an appeal to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and, if necessary, to the U.S. Supreme Court. Our hard-earned taxpayer dollars being used to foot the bill.


Anonymous said...


You are doing a truly amazing job of keeping all of us well informed! Your analysis of important issues is eagerly anticipated by many of us.

Keep up the good work!

Joe Miller

Gary R. Welsh said...

Thanks Joe