A stunning claim that police officers in Louisburg, Kansas, ordered a woman to stop praying inside her home has been elevated to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a district judge dismissed the complaint out of hand.
The case is being handled now by lawyers with First Liberty Institute after Mary Anne Sause, a retired Catholic nurse on disability, handled the initial claim on her own.
The result was that Judge Julie Robinson granted a motion from the city to dismiss the case and told the women she wasn’t allowed to amend her complaint.
First Liberty, however, decided to challenge the recent ruling based on the First Amendment issues at stake.
“Ms. Sause alleged that Officers [Lee] Stevans and [Jason] Lindsey commanded her to stop praying, under threat of arrest. And they did so without any legitimate law-enforcement justification,” the organization said. “This is a plain violation of her clearly established First Amendment rights to pray in her own home and to be free from official retaliation for exercising that right.”
The appeals court is being asked to reverse the lower court’s decision, or, at a minimum, order it back to the lower court with instructions to allow an amendment.
“No American should ever be told that they cannot pray in their own home,” said Stephanie Taub, associate counsel for First Liberty Institute. “The right to pray in the privacy of one’s own home is clearly protected by the First Amendment.”
City officials declined to comment to WND.
First Liberty said Sause was home on the night of Nov. 22, 2013, when two officers approached her door and demanded that she open it.
She explained that they did not identify themselves and she could not see them through an inoperable peephole, so she didn’t open the door.
“As a survivor of rape, Sause never opens her door to anyone she can’t identify,” First Liberty said.
The officers left, but they came back and again demanded to be allowed 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, they “harassed” her, she said, at one point telling her to get ready to go to jail.
“When Sause asked why, he said, ‘I don’t know yet,’” First Liberty reported.
She was frightened and asked permission to pray, and one officer agreed. The other then came back into the room and ordered her to “stop praying,” the complaint explains.
They then “flipped through the codebook to see how they could charge her,” finally choosing “interference” and “disorderly conduct.”
At the end of their visit, they finally explained they were there because someone thought her radio was too loud.
She filed complaints with the city and got no response before going to court.
Robinson concluded that the officer’s order for her to stop praying “may have offended her,” but it was not “a burden on her ability to exercise her religion.”
“The right to worship in the privacy of one’s own home, free from governmental interference, is a fundamental right – secured to every American by the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” said First Liberty. “As the Supreme Court has recognized repeatedly, this foundational principle is enshrined directly in the text of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.”
The woman alleged the officers forced her to stop praying not in furtherance of a “legitimate law enforcement objective, but instead so they could continue to berate and harass her.”
The officers, for example, told her to move away and said no one liked her.
“The district court’s conclusion that being forced to stop praying in one’s own home – at the command of a police officer – ‘does not constitute a burden on [Ms. Sause’s] ability to exercise her religion’ is particularly worrisome,” the lawyers explained. “To echo Justice Alito’s recent sentiments: ‘If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.’”
“She plausibly alleged that the officers unlawfully interfered with her constitutional protected religious liberty – the right to pray in her own home,” they said.
“The police are supposed to make you feel safe, but I was terrified that night. It was one of the worst nights of my life,” Sause said.