An amicus, or friend-of-the-court brief, co-authored by Indiana and Texas and joined by 21 other states asks the Supreme Court to overturn a US Court of Appeals ruling that prohibited legislative prayer at the start of a town council meeting in a town in New York. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller says they're asking the high court to craft an unambiguous ruling that prayer is permitted before legislative bodies without requiring legislative leaders to screen prayers for sectarian references.
More from Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller's office:
“When the United States Supreme Court considers major constitutional issues facing our nation, it is essential that the states make their legal position known to the Court. We ask the Supreme Court to provide clarity so that uncertainty will not hinder the authority of our state Legislatures to make decisions,” Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said. The Office of the Attorney General represents the State of Indiana before the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts.
Friday's amicus brief notes that because various federal appeals courts have reached conflicting conclusions about the Supreme Court precedent on legislative prayer from 30 years ago, Marsh v. Chambers (1983), government officials at all levels typically are faced with costly litigation whether they decide to permit legislative prayer or not. The brief argues that if the Supreme Court issued a clear standard upholding the long tradition of legislative prayer as not violating the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, then it would enable governments to make informed decisions when such situations arise. On page 13, the brief states:
“The Court should reject the assumption that the content of private citizens’ prayers before legislative assemblies is attributable exclusively to the government. Such prayers, rather are expressions of private belief made in service to an elected body of citizens. Those present may participate or not, but each citizen’s mode of rendering this particular service to a governmental body may rightfully be accommodated.”
Drafted by Indiana Solicitor General Thomas M. Fisher, the amicus brief filed today recounts the Indiana Attorney General’s defense of the Indiana House of Representatives in a 2005 lawsuit that challenged the practice of legislative prayer prior to sessions of the House. A federal district court had issued an injunction against House prayer, but that ruling later was overturned by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and legislative prayer prior to Indiana House sessions is currently permitted by the court.
Groups of states that are not litigants in a lawsuit routinely file amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court to make their legal positions known to the Court. Indiana routinely authors or co-authors amicus briefs that other states join -- and routinely joins briefs that other states author -- in support of the sovereignty of state government and separation of powers.
It is anticipated the U.S. Supreme Court will schedule oral argument in the Town of Greece, N.Y. v. Galloway case sometime during its coming term which begins in October. In addition to Indiana and Texas, the amicus brief filed Friday was signed by a bipartisan group of state attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.