Judge: Legislative Prayers Can't Mention Jesus

Ruling Follows Lawsuit From ICLU

Prayers that typically open sessions of the Indiana House of Representatives can no longer mention Jesus Christ or advance a religious denomination, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Court Judge David Hamilton issued a permanent injunction barring House Speaker Brian Bosma from permitting sectarian prayer as part of the official business of the House.

Bosma 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 said.

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.

"We're obviously very pleased by this (ruling)," ICLU attorney Kenneth Falk said. "We think that the significance of this decision is that it reaffirms the fact that the House of Representatives speaks for all of us, and that therefore if there is a prayer before the House, it should be one that is inclusive of everyone in Indiana rather than exclusive."

The ICLU had said in court filings that at least 29 House invocations during the 2005 session mentioned Jesus Christ, the savior or the son.

During one prayer in April, a minister 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 the ICLU.

Hamilton wrote that the prayers overstepped constitutional restrictions.

"The practice of the Indiana House shown by the evidence here amounts in practical terms to an official endorsement of the Christian religion," Hamilton wrote.

Bosma said he was shocked by the ruling. He said the ruling itself violates people's rights to free speech.

"It is really the first step to completely remove the opportunity to express ourselves in accordance with our faith," Bosma said. "It's absolutely wrong. It's absolutely intolerable."

Bosma said the prayers that have been offered in the House have represented "many faiths of both our members and our citizens."

"The prayers that have been offered have not attempted to proselytize, advance or disparage any faith or belief," Bosma said. "In my years of service in the Indiana General Assembly, I have always appreciated the diversity and sincerity with which the invited clerics and members have led us in the invocation.

"The ruling today forbids invited ministers and members to continue to exercise their right to free speech and pray in the tradition of their faith."

Bosma said he will try to determine what appeals can be made against the ruling.

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