After a group from a Christian school in Arizona was told by a U.S. Supreme Court police officer that they must stop praying outside of the court building because it is against the law, a legal defense fund has sent a letter to Supreme Court officials to protest the action. In response, Court officials reiterated the law but said they would investigate.
On May 5, Maureen Rigo, a teacher at Wickenburg Christian Academy in Arizona, was on an educational tour of the Supreme Court complex with her students and a few adults. At the oval plaza in front of the building, they stood off to the side of the bottom of the court steps, bowed their heads and prayed quietly.
The ADF says that they were praying in a conversational tone in order to not attract attention and were not obstructing traffic or demonstrating.
A court police officer approached the group and told them to stop praying in the area immediately. The action was taken on the basis of a statute which bars parades and processions on Supreme Court grounds.
“Christians shouldn’t be silenced for exercising their beliefs through quiet prayer on public property,” commented Nate Kellum, Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) senior counsel. “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.”
“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 ADF said in a letter to court officials. The ban on public prayers cannot hope to survive First Amendment scrutiny.”
“Evidently, people may engage in all sorts of conversational expression on Supreme Court grounds unless that expression happens to involve prayer.”
The organization charged that the action was an example of viewpoint discrimination and that it “singled out and censored religious prayer as the only form of conversation to be silenced.”
Patricia Estrada, deputy public information officer for the Supreme Court, in a Monday e-mail told CNA / EWTN News that the Court received the ADF letter.
“The Marshal of the Court will look into the events as described in the letter,” she said.
“The Court does not have a policy prohibiting prayer,” her e-mail continued.
“The Court's policy regarding the use of most public areas at the Court has been to permit activity related to the business of the Court, including traditional tourist activity and ingress and egress for visitors, but not to permit demonstrations and other types of activity that may tend to draw a crowd or onlookers.”
Citing the law, she noted that it is unlawful “to parade, stand or move in processions or assemblages in the building and grounds, including the plaza and steps, but not including the perimeter sidewalks.”