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US Capitol: Welcome to the No-Speech Zone?

Can a militarized Capitol still be considered the people’s?

by | Apr 1, 2021 | Articles, First Amendment

The National Guard – now 12 weeks after the Jan. 6 incident – is still in Washington, D.C., and according to the Pentagon, it will be there until at least May 23. Can a militarized Capitol still be considered the people’s? Rev. Patrick Mahoney, the Presbyterian minister who was allowed to hold a vigil last year despite COVID-19 constraints, may have revealed an uncomfortable truth. He’s suing the Capitol Police, the Senate sergeant at arms, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) because his request to hold another vigil in the same spot – this time to pray for unity and healing for the nation – was denied. Why can’t a citizen pray on the tax-funded sidewalk in front of the tax-funded Capitol? Perhaps his lawsuit will provide some answers.

No-Speech Zone?

Rev. Mahoney wanted to hold his vigil at the Lower Western Terrace of the Capitol. The vigil, according to court filings, was “for the express purpose of beseeching God’s healing from the divisiveness and anxiety lingering over our nation since the tragic events of January 6, 2021.” He applied on Feb. 2 and was rejected March 24. Capitol Police did offer him another spot farther away from the Capitol, but the minister was not satisfied. The suit charges that Rev. Mahoney’s speech was “unconstitutionally deemed unworthy by the defendants.”

Does this present a free speech issue? The best place to start would be the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

So how does this action stack up? It looks like the government strikes out on three of the five liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Strike one: “prohibiting the free exercise thereof” – Mahoney won’t be allowed to pray on this piece of property, which is, under normal circumstances, open to the public.

Strike two: “abridging the freedom of speech” – Mahoney isn’t allowed to stand (or kneel, as he did last time) and say his piece in this area.

Strike three: “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” – Mahoney and those who would join him aren’t allowed on this piece of public property, which other civilians – even other ministers – have had access to since the Jan. 6 incident.

Rev. Mahoney’s suit accuses the defendants of creating an effective no-speech zone on the grounds of the Capitol, and it certainly seems an accurate charge.

Capitol or Gulag?

Liberty Nation’s Dave Patterson’s early February description of the scene in D.C. is probably the most fitting:

“The backdrop of seven-foot-high fences with razor concertina wire affixed to the top and armed National Guard soldiers patrolling seems more suited to Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s image of the Soviet gulag than to the capital of America, land of the free.”

“Capitol Hill is not a gulag,” he concluded. “As a nation, we are better than that.”

But are we? That was a mere month after the protest. It has been nearly 90 days now, with no significant incident or verifiable threat since, and the Capitol is still locked down and guarded by the military – and will continue to be until at least May 23, though there’s no guarantee the deployment won’t be extended once again as that date draws near. At this point, one might be forgiven for beginning to wonder if this belies the liberty of our self-governance – or puts the lie to the illusion.

The People’s House?

Just a couple days after the so-called invasion of the Capitol, Liberty Nation Editor-in-Chief Leesa K. Donner asked the question: “What if we took the time to rethink the events of Wednesday, January 6, that led to mayhem and the loss of innocent life?” How might things have gone if the people were encouraged, rather than forbidden, to visit the people’s house? “It is possible – perhaps even likely – these patriots who came from all over the country would have quietly gotten in line, submitted to metal detectors, removed their hats and bandanas, and walked in awe through this historic building with reverence,” she suggested.

[youtube-subscribe align=”left”] Is she right? Most likely. Despite all the media coverage calling this an “insurrection,” very few of the folks who overwhelmed the police and entered the building were armed – and it’s worth noting that, though some did have guns, the only shots fired were by the police officer who killed 35-year-old Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt.

The Capitol was locked down and militarized – and will be until at least May 23, despite no further signs of “danger” – and a Presbyterian minister has been denied the right to gather and pray for peace. It would appear the Capitol is no longer “the people’s house” – perhaps it hasn’t been for a very long time.

~

Read more from James Fite.

Read More From James Fite

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