Government funds used to stream video of legislative proceedings support taxpayer standing in Establishment Clause action

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana handed down a controversial ruling on November 30, 2005, permanently enjoining the Indiana House of Representatives from beginning its meetings with any form of sectarian prayer. One of the issues in the case was whether the plaintiffs had standing to challenge the legislature’s practice.

As part of its analysis in finding in favor of the plaintiffs on the standing issue, the court observed that the House provided streaming video of each of its meetings over the Internet. This video included the invocation. There were a total of 53 opening prayers in the 2005 session, and each of these was “a few minutes in length.” The cost to stream the video over the Internet during the 2005 session was $1.88 per minute.

The court concluded that the taxpayers who had footed the bill for these costs were allowed to bring the action in federal court. The court stated:

In this case, each of the plaintiffs is an Indiana taxpayer. Indiana tax funds are spent on the House practice of prayer by [among other things] streaming video of the prayers over the Internet. Such expenditures are measurable disbursements of government funds, occasioned solely because of the prayer practice. These expenditures are sufficient to support standing for the plaintiff-taxpayers who object to the practice supported by the expenditures.

Hinrichs v. Bosma, — F.Supp.2d —-, 2005 WL 3263883 (S.D.Ind., November 30, 2005).