The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, has been denied permission to lead a prayer vigil at the U.S. Capitol tomorrow, the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. After the Capitol Police Board rejected his request, Mahoney took the case to federal court. Both entities ruled against him, citing security concerns lingering from the January 6 insurrection, which left five people dead.
Mahoney, who is active in religious liberty and pro-life causes, claims his freedoms of religion and speech are being violated.
Pastor Patrick Mahoney’s Arguments
In his lawsuit, Mahoney argues that a “no-speech zone” has been created around the center of American government, even in the absence of threats of violence. “Plaintiff’s speech has been unconstitutionally deemed unworthy by the Defendant,” the suit alleges. “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.”
U.S. Capitol Police have said that until further notice, groups larger than 19 may not obtain permits to gather in certain areas. Although some restrictive fencing around the building had been removed mid-summer, it’s now being reinstalled ahead of planned demonstrations in Washington, D.C., on September 18. A man crashed a vehicle into a U.S. Capitol barrier in April, killing one officer.
Harmeet Dhillon, CEO of the Center for American Liberty, says, “It is antithetical to the Constitution for unelected government bureaucrats and others to exhibit unfettered discretion over who is allowed to assemble on Capitol Grounds and who may not. Denying a minister and faithful parishioners the ability to pray outside the U.S. Capitol in the memory of the 9/11 tragedy is unfathomable while Congresswoman Cori Bush and others are allowed to protest at the exact same location.”
Earlier this year, Mahoney unsuccessfully attempted to hold prayer vigils on the Capitol grounds for Good Friday and the National Day of Prayer.
What the Federal Ruling Says
In his decision, D.C. District Court Judge James Boasberg acknowledged the ongoing impact of January’s uprising. “Unfortunately, what happened on January 6 may change the ability of many people to access the Capitol in the way they’ve done so traditionally in my lifetime,” he says. “People have died, and to say that the government can’t assess security in these circumstances seems naïve.”
Responding to news coverage of Thursday’s federal ruling against him, Mahoney tweeted: “One thing this CNN article FORGOT to mention. The government didn’t present ONE PIECE OF EVIDENCE linking peaceful First Amendment activities to violence or a national security threat. NOT ONE.”
Despite his disappointment, Mahoney says he’ll “continue to passionately work to ensure the First Amendment and free speech are once again honored and celebrated on the grounds of the United States Capitol.” After losing in federal court Thursday, he tweeted, “What do you do when…you lose your case in federal court? Easy answer. You hold a 9/11 prayer vigil at the Capitol on 9/11. #WeWillNotBeSilenced.”