Tenth Circuit hears case of woman threatened with arrest for praying in her own home; government defends police actions by arguing limited concept of First Amendment
While the majority of law enforcement officers are well-versed with the U.S. Constitution, and citizen rights, two officers decided that the First Amendment means nothing when he threatened a retired Catholic nurse to stop praying in her own home.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit heard oral arguments in a case filed by Ms. Mary Anne Sause, a Catholic former nurse who was ordered by police officers to stop praying in her own home.
The City of Louisburg responded, arguing that the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause merely “protects one’s ability to choose his or her religion” and that “stopping [Ms. Sause’s] prayer did not burden her free exercise of religion.”
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In court briefings, government attorneys defended the police officers’ actions by arguing that the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause only “protects an individual’s right to choose a religion.”
Attorneys for First Liberty Institute, a national religious freedom law firm representing Ms. Sause, say the government’s argument could set a dangerous precedent for how the First Amendment protects religious freedom.
Mary Anne Sause, a retired Catholic nurse on disability, was at her Louisburg, Kansas home on the night of November 22, 2013 when two police officers approached her door and demanded to be allowed in. According to Sause, the officers did not identify themselves, and she could not see them through her broken peephole, so she did not open her door. As a rape survivor, Sause never opens her door to anyone she can’t identify.
The officers left, but later returned to her home and again demanded to be let in. When Sause came to the door, the officers asked why she didn’t answer the door the first time. Ms. Sause saw a pocket Constitution, given to her by her congressman, lying on a nearby table and showed it to the officers, who still had not explained the reason for their appearance. One officer laughed and said, “that’s just a piece of paper” that “doesn’t work here.”
Once inside her home, the officers continued to harass Sause. At one point, one officer told Sause to get ready to go to jail. When Sause asked why, he said, “I don’t know yet.”
Frightened, Sause requested the officer’s permission to pray. The officer allowed it, and Sause knelt, beginning to pray silently. But when the second officer returned to her apartment and saw her kneeling in silent prayer, he ordered her to “get up” and “stop praying.” Terrified, Sause complied.
The officers continued to harass her, forcing Sause to reveal any scars or tattoos on her body. They then flipped through the codebook to see how they could charge her. The officers finally issued Sause tickets for “Interference with Law Enforcement” and “Disorderly Conduct.” Only at the end of the encounter did they tell her that they were there for a minor noise complaint because her radio was too loud.
“The police are supposed to make you feel safe, but I was terrified that night,” Sause says. “It was one of the worst nights of my life.”
“The Free Exercise Clause protects an individual’s right to do exactly that – to freely exercise his or her faith,” Stephanie Taub, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute stated. “The government’s attempt to redefine the First Amendment through this case could set a dangerous precedent for religious freedom.”
The case, Mary Anne Sause v. Timothy J. Bauer, et al., was heard before a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit. Bradley G. Hubbard, Associate with Gibson Dunn, argued the case as co-counsel with First Liberty Institute.
“Prayer is essential to my faith and everyday life,” Ms. Sause said following the arguments. “Not a day goes by when I don’t pray. It is concerning to see the government claim the First Amendment protects my right to choose my religion, but not my right to pray in the privacy of my own home.”
“The First Amendment guarantees the right for all Americans to freely exercise their faith,” Taub says. “First Liberty Institute is committed to defending that freedom for every American.”
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