INDIANAPOLIS | Indiana and 22 other states asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to overturn a federal appellate court ruling that prohibited a New York town from beginning its monthly council meetings with a consistently Christian prayer.
Attorney General Greg Zoeller was co-lead author of the amicus brief, also known as a friend-of-the-court brief, urging the nine justices not only to explicitly permit prayer at government meetings but also to set a new, definitive standard allowing most religious activities in the public square.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in May 2012 that regularly starting a government meeting with a Christian prayer suggests an "official affiliation with a particular religion," in violation of the U.S. Constitution's ban on the establishment of a state religion.
In a similar 2005 case, the overtly Christian and often proselytizing prayers in the Indiana House were deemed unconstitutional by an Indianapolis federal judge. A federal appeals court threw out that decision by finding the four plaintiffs were not sufficiently harmed to bring a lawsuit.
Zoeller, a Republican, argued it's wrong to attribute the prayer-giver's speech to the government.
Rather, "citizens offer prayers in service to an elected assembly, and in so doing may receive accommodation of their individual beliefs without implicating the Establishment Clause," he said.
Beyond the prayer question, Zoeller urged the nation's high court to clarify, once and for all, that only government-coerced participation in religious activities is prohibited by the constitutionally required separation of church and state.
The Supreme Court agreed in May to hear the government-prayer case during its term that begins in October. A ruling is expected by June 2014.
The Hammond City Council isn't waiting for the court to act. Two months ago, the council stopped beginning its meetings with prayer after Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. suggested the practice likely was unconstitutional.