Sause v. Bauer

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Sause, pro se, filed suit (42 U.S.C. 1983) against Louisburg, Kansas, police officers, the current mayor, and a former mayor, alleging that officers visited her apartment in response to a noise complaint, gained admittance, and engaged in abusive conduct before citing her for disorderly conduct and interfering with law enforcement. She alleged that at one point she knelt and began to pray but an officer ordered her to stop; another officer refused to investigate her complaint that she had been assaulted by residents of her apartment complex and threatened to issue a citation if she reported this to another police department; that the police chief failed to investigate the officers’ conduct; and that the mayors were aware of unlawful conduct by police officers. She asserted a violation of her First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion and her Fourth Amendment right to be free of any unreasonable search or seizure. The Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal, citing qualified immunity. The Supreme Court reversed. The First Amendment protects the right to pray but there are circumstances in which an officer may lawfully prevent a person from praying. Here, the officer’s order to stop praying allegedly occurred during the course of investigative conduct that implicates Fourth Amendment rights; the First and Fourth Amendment issues are inextricable. It is unclear whether the officers were in Sause’s apartment based on her consent or had some other ground consistent with the Fourth Amendment, or whether their entry or continued presence was unlawful. Nor does her complaint state what the officers wanted her to do when she was allegedly told to stop praying. Without these answers, it is impossible to analyze Sause’s free exercise claim. Although Sause raised only a First Amendment argument on appeal, that claim and the issue of qualified immunity demanded consideration of the ground on which the officers were present and any legitimate law enforcement interests that might have justified an order to stop praying. View "Sause v. Bauer" on Justia Law