Two police officers came to the home of Mary Anne Sause late at night and demanded to be let in to her apartment, without giving a specific reason for why they were there. The officers proceeded to harass Sause, telling her to prepare to go to jail, ordering her to stop praying in her own home, and saying the Constitution was “just a piece of paper.” Sause viewed the demand to stop praying as a direct violation of her religious freedom established in the First Amendment. First Liberty Institute is representing Sause before the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, arguing that no government official should tell someone to stop praying in his or her own home.
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.”
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 the officers 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.”
To this day, Sause says she lives in fear of the police and without a sense of peace in her own home.
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 officers’ 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, 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.”
On October 31, 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, 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.”
For Immediate Release: December 16, 2016
Contact: Christine Tang, email@example.com
Cell: 469-562-9484, Direct: 469-440-7601
(Mary Anne Sause. Photo credit: Kat Fitzke Photography, courtesy of First Liberty Institute.
May be republished.)
POLICE CLAIM FIRST AMENDMENT ONLY PROTECTS THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE A RELIGION,
NOT THE RIGHT TO PRAY AT HOME
Ms. Mary Anne Sause claims police violated her First Amendment rights by ordering her to stop praying in her own home.
Denver, CO. – Yesterday evening, two of the country’s top law firms, First Liberty Institute and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, filed a reply brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit on behalf of Ms. Mary Anne Sause, a Catholic former nurse, who was told by police officers for the City of Louisberg, Kansas that she could not pray in her own home. Read the reply brief
In the brief, the attorneys challenge the government’s argument that the First Amendment only “protects one’s ability to choose his or her religion.” According to the City of Louisburg, “the act of stopping [Ms. Sause’s] prayer did not burden her free exercise of religion” because only conduct that forces her to change her religious practices or causes her to stop praying altogether would violate the Constitution.
In the reply brief, First Liberty Institute and Gibson Dunn contend that the Free Exercise clause’s protection extends beyond the right to choose one’s own religion and includes the right to pray in the privacy of one’s own home, which is a fundamental right clearly protected by the First Amendment. The attorneys argue that commanding Ms. Sause to stop praying without a legitimate law-enforcement justification burdens her ability to freely exercise her religion in her own home.
“Prayer is essential to Ms. Sause’s faith and everyday life,” Stephanie Taub, Associate Counsel for First Liberty Institute, says. “The government’s argument that the First Amendment only allows an individual to choose a religion, but not to fully exercise that faith, is a blatant misstatement of the law.”
According to the Complaint, Ms. Sause was home late at night when the police demanded to be let in to her apartment. She alleges that they harassed her, saying that the Constitution is “just a piece of paper” that “doesn’t work here” and telling her to prepare to go to jail. Terrified, Ms. Sause asked one of the officers if she could pray. After being told she could, she knelt in silent prayer, only to have another officer enter the room and order her to stop praying. Only at the end of the encounter did they tell her that they were there because of a minor noise complaint that her radio was too loud.
“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. “It is well established that the First Amendment protects the right to pray in one’s own home. We urge the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to reverse the district court’s decision and enable Ms. Sause to have a meaningful day in court as she fights to vindicate her religious liberty rights.”
Read more about the case and view photos at FirstLiberty.org/Sause
About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.
To arrange an interview, contact Christine Tang, Associate Counsel for First Liberty Institute. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Direct: 469-440-7601, Cell: 469-562-9484.
Credit photos to Kat Fitzke Photography, courtesy of First Liberty Institute.