Police say prayer illegal on U.S. Supreme Court grounds

ADF attorneys send letter to Supreme Court officials urging them to allow constitutionally protected prayer outside court building
Thursday, July 15, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Alliance Defense Fund sent a letter to U.S. Supreme Court officials Thursday that urges them to stop their police officers from prohibiting people from quietly praying outside the court building. Christian teacher Maureen Rigo, her students, and a few adults were told by a court police officer that they must stop praying there because it was against the law.

“Christians shouldn’t be silenced for exercising their beliefs through quiet prayer on public property,” said ADF Senior Counsel Nate Kellum. “The last place you’d expect this kind of obvious disregard for the First Amendment would be on the grounds of the U.S. Supreme Court itself, but that’s what happened.”

On May 5, Rigo, a teacher at Wickenburg Christian Academy in Arizona, along with her students and a few adults, were taking an educational tour of the Supreme Court complex. After arriving at the Oval Plaza, they stood off to the side at the bottom of the steps, bowed their heads, and quietly prayed amongst themselves to God.

Even though they were not obstructing traffic, not demonstrating, and praying quietly in a conversational tone so as to not attract attention, a court police officer approached the group and told them to stop praying in that public area immediately. The prayer was stopped based on a statute, 40 U.S.C. §6135, which bars parades and processions on Supreme Court grounds.

“Mrs. Rigo was not engaging in a parade, procession, or assembly.  She was speaking in a conversational level to those around her with her head bowed,” the ADF letter to court officials explains. “There is no reason to silence Mrs. Rigo’s activities since these activities do not attract attention, create a crowd, or give off the appearance of impartiality. The ban on public prayers cannot hope to survive First Amendment scrutiny.”

“The only logical explanation for prohibiting Mrs. Rigo’s activities, while allowing other conversations, pertains to the viewpoint of Mrs. Rigo’s expression,” the letter continues. “Evidently, people may engage in all sorts of conversational expression on Supreme Court grounds unless that expression happens to involve prayer. In doing so, the Supreme Court police have not targeted a subject matter or class of expression, but targeted a particular viewpoint for censorship. They have singled out and censored religious prayer as the only form of conversation to be silenced.”

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.

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