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 government officials left, but later returned to her home and again demanded to be let in. When Sause came to the door, they 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 official laughed and said, “that’s just a piece of paper” that “doesn’t work here.”
Once inside her home, they 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 government officials 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.”
Following the encounter, Sause reported the incident to the officers’ supervisors several times. Every time, she was ignored.
In November of 2015, Sause filed a federal lawsuit in District Court in Kansas. Sause claimed, in addition to other alleged violations, that her First Amendment right to religious liberty was violated when these government officials ordered her to stop praying in her own home.
In early 2016, the District Court dismissed Sause’s complaint, claiming that the police officer’s order to stop praying “may have offended her,” but did not “constitute a burden on her ability to exercise her religion.”
On September 28, 2016, First Liberty Institute, along with attorneys from the international law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, appealed the District Court’s ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. First Liberty’s brief argues that the government officials’ conduct violated Sause’s First Amendment right to pray in her own home and to be free from retaliation for exercising that right. Additionally, the brief argues that the District Court failed to follow proper rules of federal procedure when it dismissed her complaint. Read the brief.
“No American should be told that they cannot pray in their own home,” says Stephanie Taub, Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “The right to pray in the privacy of one’s own home is clearly protected by the First Amendment.”
On October 31, 2016, 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.”
On December 15, 2016, First Liberty and Gibson Dunn filed a reply brief defending Sause’s right to pray in her own home as a fundamental right clearly protected by the First Amendment and rejected the government’s response as a blatant misstatement of the law. Read the reply brief.
“The Free Exercise Clause protects the right to do exactly that – freely exercise one’s faith,” Bradley G. Hubbard, Litigation Associate at Gibson Dunn, says. “We urge the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to reverse the district court’s decision and allow Ms. Sause a meaningful day in court.”
On June 20, 2017, a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit agreed with a lower court’s decision to dismiss Sause’s case. The majority argued that, although First Amendment violations occurred, the police officers were shielded from liability due to the legal doctrine of qualified immunity. The majority opinion noted that for purposes of legal argument, “We assume that the defendants violated Sause’s rights under the First Amendment when, according to Sause, they repeatedly mocked her, ordered her to stop praying so they could harass her, threatened her with arrest and public humiliation, insisted that she show them the scars from her double mastectomy, and then ‘appeared…disgusted’ when she complied – all over a mere noise complaint.”
However, the judge continued by arguing that it would not have been “obvious to a reasonable officer” that to tell Sause to stop praying could violate the First Amendment.
“Although the decision to uphold the lower court’s dismissal is disappointing, the harsh criticism of the officers’ conduct in this case supports our First Amendment claim,” Jeremy Dys, First Liberty Deputy General Counsel, stated. “No one should face the prospect of being arrested for praying in their own home.”
For Immediate Release: June 22, 2017
Contact: Abigail Doty, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cell: 469-237-9102, Direct: 469-440-7598
COURT EXPRESSES CONCERNS ABOUT FIRST AMENDMENT VIOLATIONS BEFORE DISMISSING APPEAL
Tenth Circuit cites qualified immunity shielding the officers from liability in affirming district court’s decision.
Denver—On Tuesday, June 20, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit issued its opinion in Sause v. Bauer, in which First Liberty Institute and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP represent Mary Anne Sause. Police ordered Sause, a devout Catholic, to stop praying in her own home while investigating a noise complaint.
Writing for the majority Judge Moritz stated, “We assume that the defendants violated Sause’s rights under the First Amendment when, according to Sause, they repeatedly mocked her, ordered her to stop praying so they could harass her, threatened her with arrest and public humiliation, insisted that she show them the scars from her double mastectomy, and then ‘appeared…disgusted’ when she complied – all over a mere noise complaint.”
Read the opinion by clicking here.
“Although the decision to uphold the lower court’s dismissal is disappointing, the harsh criticism of the officers’ conduct in this case supports our First Amendment claim,” Jeremy Dys, Deputy General Counsel for First Liberty Institute reiterated, “No one should face the prospect of being arrested for praying in their own home.”
In defending the police officers’ actions, the government argued that the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause only “protects an individual’s right to choose a religion.” First Liberty attorneys representing Sause argued that this misconstrued the Free Exercise Clause, which protects not only the right to choose a religion, but also the right to freely exercise one’s 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 concurring opinion condemned the police officers’ “extraordinary contempt of a law abiding citizen.”
Read more and view legal documents and photos at FirstLiberty.org/Sause.
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About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans. Read more at FirstLiberty.org.
To arrange an interview, contact Abigail Doty at email@example.com or by calling 469-440-7598 (office) or 469-237-9102 (cell).
To download this press release, please click here.
Credit photos to Kat Fitzke Photography, courtesy of First Liberty Institute.