A guest column by Rev. William Payne (T-G 10/13/18), contained the remarkable claim that "In 2017, a federal appeals court ruled that officers could stop a Kansas family from praying in their home because they occupied public housing."

Here is what happened. Police officers in Louisburg, Kansas were dispatched to the home of Mary Ann Sause to investigate a noise complaint. With police present, she knelt and began to pray. At some point, an officer or officers told her to stop praying. She was eventually cited for disorderly conduct and interfering with law enforcement. She later sued the police, the mayor, and a former mayor under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, which permits civil suits against police for civil rights violations. Sause essentially argued that her First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated by police. 

The First Amendment right guarantees the free exercise of religion. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The police claimed qualified immunity, a defense which protects police in the performance of their duties. The federal District Court dismissed Sause’s claims, accepting the qualified immunity defense. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals then upheld the dismissal, while noting that the First Amendment protects prayer and if Sause’s claims about police behavior were true, the police action should be condemned.

The case then went to the U.S. Supreme Court (585 U.S. ___ 2018), No. 17-742, Decision June 28, 2018. The Supreme Court reversed the dismissal by the 10th Circuit and granted a writ of certiorari to Sause, stating that she might well have a combination First and Fourth Amendment claim, but they needed more information about exactly what happened. The writ of cert orders the lower court to provide its record for review.

The Supreme Court noted that while prayer is protected by the First Amendment, it can’t be used to obstruct police activity, such as, for example, making police wait to take you to jail while you engage in prayer. The court couldn’t analyze the qualified immunity claim without knowing what went on in the apartment.

Clarke Owens

Perrysville