House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has taken what many critics see as an over-the-top response to a violent riot on Capitol Hill in January, including with the installation of security fencing and the presence of National Guard troops to prevent access by the general public.
Now, a minister is taking Pelosi and others to court for allegedly preventing him from using a location on Capitol grounds for a prayer vigil despite the fact that he has used it dozens of times for similar purposes over the past three decades.
No longer a “traditional public forum”
In addition to Pelosi, Presbyterian Rev. Patrick Mahoney named Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. Capitol Police Board, and the Senate sergeant-at-arms as defendants in his lawsuit, according to Breitbart.
Mahoney is being represented by attorney Harmeet Dhillon of the Center for American Liberty, who argues that the actions of the defendants constituted violations of his First and Fifth Amendment rights as well as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The suit claims that Mahoney’s request for permission to hold the prayer vigil was not even processed.
According to a Center for American Liberty press release, Pelosi has effectively transformed the Capitol complex, which has been deemed by courts in the past to be a “traditional public forum.” In its current state, the organization describes what is essentially a “no-speech zone” surrounding the Capitol building.
In the lawsuit filed on Tuesday, Mahoney described submitting his formal request on Feb. 2 for an event two months later at the Lower Western Terrace of the Capitol grounds, where he had previously conducted a number of vigils both with and without permits — including during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Capitol grounds “restricted” after riot
Nevertheless, Mahoney was later informed that his request would not even be processed due to Pelosi’s orders that the area was “restricted” and off-limits.
The minister argued that the combined actions of the named defendants served to “chill and deter” him from exercising his rights and constituted “prior restraint” on his constitutional liberties.
Specifically, Mahoney alleged that their actions were clear violations of his rights to free speech, freedom of assembly and association, and the free exercise of his religious beliefs.
Furthermore, his lawsuit claims that the refusal to even process his request was a violation of the Fifth Amendment’s “due process” clause, describing the entire ordeal as a violation of the RFRA, since he was being refused access while members of the media, vendors, and congressional constituents had been granted access for secular reasons.
Dhillon addressed the situation in his group’s statement, insisting: “If 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.”