The U.S. Supreme Court has reversed a ruling that protected Kansas police officers from being sued after they barged into a woman’s home on an alleged noise complaint, harassed her for her Christian faith and ordered her to stop praying.
First Liberty, which defended Mary Anne Sause in her complaint against Louisburg, Kansas, police, said the ruling is “a just outcome for Ms. Sause and a victory for religious liberty.”
Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty, said no American citizen “should ever be subjected to such outrageous, blatantly unconstitutional behavior by government officials.”
The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday reversed the 10th Circuit’s affirmation of qualified legal immunity for the officers and returned the case “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
The high court said more information is needed regarding the incident.
“In considering the defendants’ motion to dismiss, the district court was required to interpret the pro se complaint liberally, and when the complaint is read that way, it may be understood to state Fourth Amendment claims that could not properly be dismissed for failure to state a claim. We appreciate that the petitioner elected on appeal to raise only a First Amendment argument and not to pursue an independent Fourth Amendment claim, but under the circumstances, the First Amendment claim demanded consideration of the ground on which the officers were present in the apartment and the nature of any legitimate law enforcement interests that might have justified an order to stop praying at the specific time in question.
“Without considering these matters, neither the free exercise issue nor the officers’ entitlement to qualified immunity can be resolved,” the Supreme Court said.
First Liberty explained: “Attorneys for Sause had asked the Supreme Court to reverse the appellate court’s ruling that the police officers, who in 2013 entered Sause’s home to investigate an alleged minor noise complaint, harassed her, and ordered Sause, a devout Catholic, to stop praying in her home were entitled to qualified immunity. The Supreme Court’s decision sends a clear signal that citizens are entitled to religious liberty in their own home.”
WND reported when the dispute was submitted to the Supreme Court that Sause asserted the officers ordered her to stop praying, not for any legitimate law enforcement interest, but “so they could harass her.”
“The 10th Circuit correctly ‘assumed’ this conduct ‘violated Sause’s rights under the First Amendment,'” the woman’s legal team explained. “Yet the 10th Circuit nevertheless granted qualified immunity to the officers, solely on the ground that their alleged conduct was so obviously unconstitutional that there is no prior case law involving similar facts.”
WND reported last summer Judges Tim Tymkovich, Carlos Lucero and Nancy Moritz of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver found that the police defendants in the constitutional-violations case were protected even though they violated Sause’s constitutional rights.
The officers later said they were at her home on a noise complaint.
The woman claimed the officers said the Constitution is “just a piece of paper” that “doesn’t work here” and told her to prepare to go to jail.
The complaint states: “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 appeals judges noted Sause’s “complaint states a plausible claim.”
“We don’t necessarily disagree. Indeed, for purposes of resolving this appeal, we assume that the defendants violated Sause’s First Amendment rights. But even with the benefit of that assumption, the defendants are nevertheless entitled to qualified immunity,” the 10th Circuit found.
The incident took place Nov. 22, 2013.
“Sause is a rape survivor, so she is careful to make sure that she can identify visitors before she opens the door. According to Sause, she did not open the door to the police officers because they did not identify themselves and she was not able to see them due to her broken peephole,” the legal team explained.
But the officers returned and demanded entry.
What followed was about an hour of harassment, the complaint stated.
“No American should be told that they cannot pray in their own home,” her lawyer said. “The right to pray in the privacy of one’s own home is clearly protected by the First Amendment.”
The case is against Louisburg, its police department, Chief Timothy Bauer and officers Jason Lindsey, Brent Ball and others. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages.