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Zoeller is right to seek clarity on prayer

By Scott Tibbs, August 17, 2013

Obviously, the state of Indiana has an interest in whether prayers before government meetings are legal, which is why it was wise for Attorney General Greg Zoeller to file a friend of the court brief.

A little context is appropriate: several years ago, an activist judge decreed that prayers opening the Indiana legislative session were "unconstitutional" and ruled the prayers were not to continue. Eventually, the plaintiffs lost the case when their lawsuit was dismissed for lack of standing. The issue seemed to be settled then, but there is a similar challenge to prayers before units of local government in New York.

Zoeller explained his decision in a letter to the star, which drew a rebuke a few days later. Zoeller was accused of wasting resources (specifically the time of state employees) by engaging in "culture war activism" to play to the conservative base on "issues not directly related to Indiana."

The problem with that argument is that Zoeller's job as attorney general is to defend the state of Indiana in court. If local government in New York is prohibited from having prayers before meetings under the federal constitution, that would affect both the Indiana state legislature (due to the lawsuit mentioned above) and any units of local government in the state that open their meetings with a prayer. Since Indiana law forbids state recognition of same-sex marriage, Indiana has an interest in federal court rulings on that issue as well.

Zoeller is not engaged in culture war activism to play to the Republican base. He is doing his job as attorney general and representing the interests of the state on matters that will eventually impact Indiana, depending on how the cases are decided. If Zoeller's critics dislike his efforts to defend the state, they should address their concerns through public policy, not with the state's top lawyer for simply doing his job.