Police Tell Woman She Can't Pray Inside Home, Constitution Is 'Just a Piece of Paper'

(Photo: Kat Fitzke Photography via First Liberty Institute)Mary Anne Sause.

Mary Anne Sause, a Louisburg, Kansas, woman who says she was ordered by local police to stop praying in her home and told that a copy of the Constitution she showed them was "just a piece of paper," has appealed a district court's ruling that officers did not violate her First Amendment.

First Liberty Institute appealed the district court's ruling to the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit last Wednesday, arguing 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, according to information provided by the First Liberty Institute.

Sause, a retired Catholic nurse on disability and rape survivor, was at home on the night of Nov. 22, 2013, when two police officers approached her door and demanded to be allowed in. Sause said the officers did not identify themselves, and she could not see them through her broken peephole, so she did not open her door.

The officers left, but returned later and demanded that Sause let them in. When Sause came to the door and the officers asked why she didn't answer the first time, she showed them a copy of a pocket Constitution given to her by her congressman.

One officer laughed and said, "That's just a piece of paper" that "doesn't work here," while still not explaining the reason for their presence at her home. She said once the officers were inside they continued to harass her, telling her at one point that she should get ready to go to jail.

When Sause asked why, the officer told her, "I don't know yet."

It was at this point, explained First Liberty, that a frightened Sause asked one officer's permission to pray. The officer allowed the prayer but shortly after she started praying silently the second officer in her home ordered her to "get up" and "stop praying" and she complied immediately.

The harassment continued from the officers, according Sause who explained that she was forced to reveal any scars or tattoos on her body. She was eventually issued tickets for "Interference with Law Enforcement" and "Disorderly Conduct."

She was also told at the end of the encounter that police were responding to a complaint that her radio was too loud.

In November 2015, Sause filed a pro se complaint with a district court in Kansas after her complaints to the officers' supervisors fell on deaf ears. The complaint argued that in addition to other alleged violations, her First Amendment right to religious liberty was violated when the officers ordered her to stop praying in her own home.

The district court dismissed Sause's complaint earlier this year, 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." The appeal contends otherwise.

"No American should ever be told that they cannot pray in their own home," Stephanie Taub, associate counsel for First Liberty, said in a statement. "The right to pray in the privacy of one's own home is clearly protected by the First Amendment."

"As Ms. Sause explained in her complaint, two Louisburg police officers abused their power and violated her First Amendment rights by ordering her — under threat of arrest and without any legitimate law-enforcement justification — to stop praying in her own home," added Bradley G. Hubbard, litigation associate at Gibson Dunn. "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 as she attempts to vindicate her constitutionally protected religious liberty."

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