A court has ruled against a Catholic woman who claimed police demanded she stop praying in her own home, despite the judge’s opinion that the police officers were “obviously unprofessional” and violated her First Amendment rights.
Mary Anne Sause, from Kansas, sued two Louisburg police officers claiming they demanded entry into her home but wouldn’t tell her why they were there. She claimed that after she started praying, the officers – who were responding to a noise complaint – ordered her to stop, The Christian Post reported.
Earlier this month the United States Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a previous dismissal of Sause’s case, claiming that although her First Amendment rights were violated and officers behaved poorly, Sause must show that the police were aware their actions would violate her free speech.
According to the opinion written by Judge Nancy Moritz, the court agreed that “the defendants violated Sause’s rights under the First Amendment” after they mocked her and ordered her to stop praying “so they could harass her” and threaten her with arrest.
“But this assumption doesn’t entitle Sause to relief,” the Judge wrote. “Sause must demonstrate that any reasonable officer would have known this behavior violated the First Amendment.”
The court opinion continued that while the officers’ behavior may be “obviously unprofessional,” it doesn’t mean it’s “obviously unlawful”. The Judge opined:
It certainly wouldn’t be obvious to a reasonable officer that, in the midst of a legitimate investigation, the First Amendment would prohibit him or her from ordering the subject of that investigation to stand up and direct his or her attention to the officer — even if the subject of the investigation is involved in religiously-motivated conduct at the time, and even if what the officers say or do immediately after issuing that command does nothing to further their investigation.
A representative of Sause in the case, First Liberty Institute Deputy General Counsel Jeremy Dys, said that the court’s “harsh criticism of the officers’ conduct in this case supports our First Amendment claim,” adding that “No one should face the prospect of being arrested for praying in their own home.”
The institute, however, criticized the court’s decision, claiming the defendants argued that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment only “protects an individual’s right to choose a religion” and ignoring the fact that it guarantees the right to exercise faith.
“While Ms. Sause’s appeal was ultimately unsuccessful, the court stated clearly that Sause’s First Amendment rights may have been violated, but the legal doctrine of qualified immunity shields the officers from any liability,” the Institute’s statement read. “The concurring opinion condemned the police officers’ ‘extraordinary contempt of a law abiding citizen.'”