Editor's note: The Associated Press reported that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on March 1, 2006, refused to temporarily lift a ban on prayers in the Indiana House of Representatives that mention Jesus Christ or endorse any particular religion. The panel voted 2-1 to deny a request by House Speaker Brian Bosma to set aside a judge's order until an appeal could be further litigated. House members have been complying with the judge's order by meeting for informal prayers in the back of their chamber before official business begins.
INDIANAPOLIS — Prayers that typically open sessions of the Indiana House of
Representatives can no longer mention Jesus Christ or advance a religious faith,
a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge David Hamilton issued a permanent injunction on Nov. 30
barring House Speaker Brian Bosma from permitting sectarian prayer as part of
the official business of the House.
Bosma, R-Indianapolis, can continue the legislative prayers, but must advise
those giving the invocations not to advance one faith and not to use Christ's
name or title, Hamilton wrote in Hinrichs v.
Hamilton's ruling said people do not have a First Amendment right to use an
official platform like the speaker's podium to express their own religious
"All are free to pray as they wish in their own houses of worship or in other
settings," Hamilton wrote. "Those who wish to participate in a practice of
official prayer must be willing to stay within constitutional bounds."
Bosma called the ruling an "intolerable decision" that threatened free speech
in the House. He said he has directed his legal team and requested the attorney
general's office to begin investigating every possibility available to overturn
"We each as Hoosiers, as citizens of the United States, need to be able to
express ourselves in accordance with our faith, as our conscience and our heart
dictates, and when that liberty is taken away, a little bit of our freedom is
taken away," Bosma said.
House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, a South Bend Democrat who preceded Bosma
as speaker, said he and previous speakers had followed the same practice
"This is not a partisan situation. It's simply once again legislation by the
judiciary — judicial fiat," Bauer said.
Bosma said the ruling is more extreme than others.
"If it stands, this will be the farthest reaching decision to my knowledge of
any federal court specifically focusing on the name Christ and removing that
from public discourse," Bosma said. "I question how soon it will be when my
ability to stand here and say the name just in discussion on the floor of the
House will be taken away as well."
Bosma declined to say what he would do regarding a House prayer if the ruling
was not overturned or stayed when the House convenes on Jan. 4.
The Indiana Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in June on behalf of four
people, including a Quaker lobbyist, who said they found the tradition of
offering the usually Christian prayers offensive.
Hamilton wrote that the prayers overstepped constitutional boundaries.
"The practice of the Indiana House shown by the evidence here amounts in
practical terms to an official endorsement of the Christian religion," he
The prayers send the message to Christians that they are favored insiders,
and send a message to others that they are outsiders, the judge wrote.
Ken Falk, the ICLU's legal director, said the state should never make someone
feel like they are of lesser value because of their religion.
"The prayers send a very powerful message of exclusion to those who are not
of that denomination," Falk said.
Of 53 opening prayers in the House during the 2005 General Assembly session,
41 were given by clergy identified with Christian churches and nine were
delivered by representatives. A lay person, a Muslim imam and a Jewish rabbi
each delivered one prayer, according to court documents. At least 29 House
invocations mentioned Jesus Christ, the Savior or the Son, the documents
During one prayer in April, elder Clarence Brown of Second Baptist Church in
Bedford sang a gospel song called "Just A Little Talk With Jesus," prompting
some lawmakers to leave the chamber and several people to lodge complaints with
Brown said he disagreed with Hamilton's ruling.
"If it is not in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died on the
cross, your prayers will not get answered," Brown said.
Dozens of other religious leaders have signed a statement saying House
prayers should honor religious diversity. That statement has been sent to both
Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem Robert Garton, R-Columbus, with an invitation
to discuss an alternative policy on prayer.
Both leaders' offices acknowledged receiving the statement but have not yet
chosen to meet, said the Rev. Kevin Armstrong, senior pastor at North United
Methodist Church in Indianapolis, an organizer of the campaign.
Indianapolis Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso said she agreed with Hamilton's
"The state is not to give the impression of endorsing one particular
religious tradition but rather to celebrate the rich plurality of faiths that
make up the state of Indiana," she said. "No citizen should be made to feel
Marcia Goldstone, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations
Council in Indianapolis, said ruling does not ban prayer, but rather exclusive
She said prayers offered in the halls of government must be sensitive to the
diverse religious lives of all Indiana citizens.
"The language should be hospitable and inclusive," Goldstone said.