On Tuesday, a pastor sued House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris, among others, for the right to pray at the U.S. Capitol on Good Friday. The pastor asked to pray at the same spot he prayed in 2020, but the U.S. Capitol Police refused his application because the Capitol is still locked down.
In the lawsuit, Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney claims Pelosi, Harris (in her capacity as president of the Senate), the U.S. Capitol Police, and the Sergeant at Arms of the U.S. Senate, Karen H. Gibson, violated his First Amendment rights by refusing to let him pray at the Lower Western Terrace of the Capitol on Good Friday. He claims this refusal violated his rights to free speech, freedom of assembly, free exercise of religion, and due process.
Among other things, his lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction forcing the defendants to let him pray at the U.S. Capitol on Good Friday, April 2, 2021.
“Defendants’ blanket denial of the permitting processes on a traditional public forum is additionally impermissible because they act as a prior restraint on speech,” the lawsuit argues. “In closing the sidewalks and public areas around the Capitol, including the Lower Western Terrace Plaintiff seeks to utilize, Defendants have effectively created a no-speech zone around the nation’s Capitol.”
“Defendants prevent any First Amendment activities on/in these areas, even though no specific threat to the Capitol has been identified in justification,” the suit claims. “Plaintiff asserts there is no specific threat to the Capitol Building, or surrounding grounds, that warrants, nor justifies, a continuation of the trampling of First Amendment activities on the grounds of the Capitol Building, and specifically, on the Lower Western Terrace of the Capitol Building.”
The lawsuit identifies Mahoney as “a peaceful man of God” who “feels called upon to pray for the United States. He wants to do so at the same place where the attempted and failed insurrection took place.”
Mahoney “strongly denounces the criminal conduct by the rioters on January 6, 2021, and cries out against the violence and loss of life that took place that fateful day in this nation’s history. The Plaintiff asserts that he does not pose a national security threat to the United States, nor to the House of Representatives, nor the Senate, nor the Capitol Police Department and their officers, nor the Capitol Building and/or surrounding grounds.”
Mahoney has publicly prayed at the Lower Western Terrace before. In fact, he has a 30-year relationship with the Capitol Police, and “almost eighty percent” of his events at the Capitol have taken place at the Lower Western Terrace. On February 2, he applied for a permit to hold a Good Friday service there, and Capitol Police rejected the permit.
“If ever there was ever a location in need of divine intervention, of God’s favor and wisdom, it would be the U.S. Capitol where legislators from across the country gather to pass laws that have a profound impact on virtually every aspect of our lives,” Harmeet K. Dhillon, CEO of the Center for American Liberty, which filed the lawsuit on Mahoney’s behalf, said in a statement.
“Denying a minister and faithful parishioners the ability to pray outside the U.S. Capitol is unfathomable and violates First Amendment guarantees for traditional public forums,” Dhillon added.
“The ‘People’s House,’ as the U.S. Capitol Building is so rightly called, must be a place where all Americans are afforded the right to come and peacefully celebrate and express their First Amendment rights,” Mahoney himself said. “Tragically, those rights and freedoms are being denied and prohibited.”
Democrats have kept up fencing and other restrictions around the Capitol since the Jan. 6 riot, acting as though the threat of violent extremists from the Right justified extra precautions. While the January 6 riot was heinous, there is no reason to suspect that a similar attack is in the works, especially since Donald Trump conceded the 2020 election after the riot.
On Good Friday, Christians commemorate the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the ultimate sacrifice of God’s Son that enables sinful humanity reconciliation with a perfect God. It is an extremely fitting time to pray for America and for the Capitol, especially after the Capitol riot. If the Washington, D.C., District Court grants Mahoney’s injunction, the pastor’s prayer will serve as an important symbol of hope — and a rebuke to the needless fencing and other restrictions that still surround the People’s House.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.