An attorney for Mary Ann Souse, a devout Catholic resident of Louisburg, Kansas, told Big League Politics that officers of the Louisburg Police Department were acting under the color of the law when they forced Souse to stop praying inside her own home in late 2013.
“We want the Supreme Court to verify to Americans that our First Amendment rights are important, ” said Stephanie N. Taub,, counsel with the First Liberty Institute, the largest legal institution in America dedicated to protecting religious liberty.
A First Liberty press release says that police responded to a minor noise complaint at Sause’s home in late 2013, harassed her, and forced her to stop praying.
Subsequently, Sause filed a lawsuit against the police officers, the chief of police and city officials.
Sause’s petition claims that officers forced her to stop praying simply to harass her, and not to further any legitimate law enforcement purpose. The officers allegedly told Sauce that the Constitution and Bill of Rights were just a piece of paper, and that they did not work here.
The officer also threatened her by saying that their encounter was going to be on the TV program “COPs,” and for her to get ready, because she was going to jail.
First Liberty, a non-profit, is representing Souse along with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, a global law firm working the case on a pro bono basis.
Friday, Sause’s legal team asked the Supreme Court to review or summarily reverse the ruling of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which granted the officers qualified immunity, a doctrine that protects public officials from civil liability, provided that the officials did not knowingly violate any statutory or Constitutional rights.
The legal team esxpcts a decision from the Court in a few months, according to First Liberty.
“The Tenth Circuit’s opinion assumed the police officers violated Ms. Sause’s constitutional rights when they mocked her, humiliated her, and ordered her to stop praying in her home,” said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty in the press release.
Kansas University School of Law Professor Richard E. Levy, clarified the Tenth Circuit’s ruling, told Big League Politics that the officers must know that they are violating a clearly established Constitutional right at the time of the incident, in order to be denied qualified immunity.
“The question for the Supreme Court will be whether the police officers clearly understood their conduct to be in violation of [Ms. Sause’s] First Amendment rights at the time of the event,” Levy said.
Louisburg Police Chief Timothy Bauer refused to comment, said to Big League Politics, “Our legal counsel has advised us not to make comments during the legal proceedings.”
The Department of Justice posted this definition of deprivation of rights under color of law:
- Section 242 of Title 18 makes it a crime for a person acting under color of any law to willfully deprive a person of a right or privilege protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.
For the purpose of Section 242, acts under “color of law” include acts not only done by federal, state, or local officials within the their lawful authority, but also acts done beyond the bounds of that official’s lawful authority, if the acts are done while the official is purporting to or pretending to act in the performance of his/her official duties. Persons acting under color of law within the meaning of this statute include police officers, prisons guards and other law enforcement officials, as well as judges, care providers in public health facilities, and others who are acting as public officials. It is not necessary that the crime be motivated by animus toward the race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin of the victim.
The offense is punishable by a range of imprisonment up to a life term, or the death penalty, depending upon the circumstances of the crime, and the resulting injury, if any.
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