December 2007 Church & State | AU Bulletin

A federal appeals court has tossed aside a challenge to the Indiana House’s practice of opening its sessions with sectarian prayer.

A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 on Oct. 31 that several taxpayers did not have “standing” – the legal right to bring the lawsuit.

The four taxpayers sued the House speaker, noting that the invocations frequently reference Jesus.

The 7th Circuit based its decision on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2007 Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation ruling. The high court in Hein found that taxpayers did not have standing to challenge the establishment of the White House’s “faith-based” office.

The court majority said the plaintiffs “have not identified – and cannot identify – any specific legislative appropriations that ‘expressly authorize, direct or even mention the expenditures of which [the plaintiffs] complain.’”

The dissenting judge, Circuit Judge Diane P. Wood, concluded that she could not join the majority to cut off the lawsuit over the “threshold issue of standing.”

Wood also wrote that the majority opinion had not closed the door on the issue.

“Should someone come along who meets the majority’s concept of standing,” she wrote, “the question whether the House may sponsor prayers at State expense urging everyone in the chamber to adhere to Christianity, or edicts declaring the room a ‘hallowed place,’ or musical exhortations, revival style, to ‘talk with Jesus,’ is an open one.”