An ordained Presbyterian minister who wanted to conduct a prayer vigil on the United States Capitol Grounds on September 11, the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is suing the United States Capitol Police board after being denied permission to hold the vigil.
On July 9, Reverend Patrick Mahoney applied for a permit to hold his proposed prayer vigil on the Western Front Lawn on September 11. On August 19, 2021, he was informed that his permit application “could not be processed” because the Western Front Lawn was “closed,” the lawsuit states.
The Center for American Liberty, which represents Mahoney, stated, “What is abundantly clear is that the Capitol Grounds are not restricted to everyone. Representative Cori Bush and dozens of others protested for days—camping on the steps of the Capitol—demanding the renewal of an eviction moratorium. And that is not all. At least one other permit application was approved and that group held a large protest with a stage, sound equipment, and a significant media presence.”
Mahoney said, “In response to this outrageous violation of the First Amendment and free speech, we have filed a federal lawsuit which will be heard this week. Please join me in prayer: Father, we cry out to you as we realize our freedom and our rights do not come from government, but they come from You. We pray that we will prevail in this lawsuit and that every American, regardless of their beliefs or values, would have the right to freely express them in the public square without government interference or intimidation. Return the People’s House back to the people.”
I was denied the right to have a prayer vigil on the grounds of the US Capitol for 9/11. As I walk to church this Sunday, please pray for our federal lawsuit this week. @mercedesschlapp @mschlapp @CPAC @mark_trammell #FreeSpeech #USCapitol #Prayer pic.twitter.com/O9q2ppGGxZ
— Rev. Patrick Mahoney (@revmahoney) September 5, 2021
The lawsuit explains:
The Government has devised and operates a permitting scheme under which persons seeking to conduct demonstration activity on the Capitol Grounds in groups of twenty (20) individuals or more must obtain a permit to do so. While the Government has permitted other events on the Capitol Grounds over the past several weeks—including at least one event on the Western Front Lawn—it failed to grant Rev. Mahoney’s permit application to hold his proposed prayer vigil without meaningful explanation, other than to say that area was “closed.”
This proffered justification is untrue. Although the Western Front Lawn was “closed” after the events of January 6, 2021, the fence enclosing the Western Front Lawn was removed in July 2021. By allowing multiple other demonstrations to proceed while not affording Rev. Mahoney the same opportunity, the Government is discriminating against Rev. Mahoney based on the content of his speech in violation of the First Amendment.
Further, the Government’s permitting regime acts as a prior restraint on speech and is impermissible because the Government has not demonstrated that it applied narrow, objective, and definite criteria to guide its decision not to issue Rev. Mahoney a permit. Indeed, to this day, the Government has not explained how it came to the decision to fail to grant Rev. Mahoney’s permit application.
Moreover, even taking the Government at its word that the Western Front Lawn is “closed,” if the Government has, in fact, “closed” the Western Front Lawn, it has impermissibly created a no-speech zone around the perimeter of the Capitol, an outcome that is not narrowly tailored to any significant governmental interest. For these reasons too, the Government has violated Rev. Mahoney’s rights to free speech, assembly, and association under the First Amendment.
The Government’s restrictions have specifically and explicitly targeted Rev. Mahoney’s religious and “faith-based” service and are thus not neutral. The Government has prohibited Rev. Mahoney’s religious gathering while allowing non-religious public gatherings.
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