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U.S. Supreme Court
A Christian private-school teacher is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to allow constitutionally protected prayer outside the court building after her class was “abruptly” ordered to stop praying on the grounds.
Maureen Rigo, a teacher at Wickenburg Christian Academy in Arizona, took her class to the Supreme Court complex May 5 for an educational tour.
The students stood off to the side at the bottom steps of the Oval Plaza, bowed their heads and quietly prayed amongst themselves, according to the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal team Rigo contacted after the incident.
“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,” ADF reported. “The prayer was stopped based on a statute, 40 U.S.C. §6135, which bars parades and processions on Supreme Court grounds.”
That statute reads as follows:
It is unlawful to parade, stand, or move in processions or assemblages in the Supreme Court Building or grounds, or to display in the Building and grounds a flag, banner, or device designed or adapted to bring into public notice a party, organization, or movement.
According to the Sonoran News, the police tapped Rigo on the shoulder and said, “Ma’am, I’m not going to tell you that you can’t pray, but you can’t do it here. Please go somewhere else.”
A message left by WND at Wickenburg Christian Academy hadn’t been returned at the time of this report.
ADF sent a letter to U.S. Supreme Court officials today, imploring them to stop their police officers from barring people from quietly praying outside the court.
“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,” a letter signed by ADF attorney Nathan Kellum 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.”
ADF argues that the wording of the statute cited by the police officer does not apply.
“The wording of the statute does not seemingly contemplate quiet prayers like Mrs. Rigo’s,” Kellum states. “Such prayers are ‘not designed or adopted to bring’ Mrs. Rigo ‘into public notice.’ Indeed, Mrs. Rigo’s prayers were not communicated to anyone outside of God and her very small group.”
The group noted that the prayers are akin to routine conversations that take place during Supreme Court tours every day and that Rigo’s class was not engaging in a parade, procession or assembly.
“The only logical explanation for prohibiting Mrs. Rigo’s activities, while allowing other conversations, pertains to the viewpoint of Mrs. Rigo’s expression,” Kellum argued. “[T]he 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.”
The letter states that the prayer ban “exemplifies viewpoint discrimination” in which “the government targets not subject matter, but particular views taken by speakers” in violation of the First Amendment.
In the letter, the ADF demanded that court officials allow Rigo to return and “engage in conversation-level prayers directed to her nearby companions and God.”
Police have three weeks to respond. If they don’t, ADF has threatened legal action to protect Rigo’s constitutional rights.
“Christians shouldn’t be silenced for exercising their beliefs through quiet prayer on public property,” ADF senior counsel Nate Kellum said in a statement. “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.”
WND has reported on a series of efforts to remove mention of God and references to the religious faith and influences of the Founding Fathers from government grounds.
In 2008, an “oversight” at the nation’s $600-million-plus Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C., left the national motto “In God We Trust” absent from the historical displays and at one point prompted WND columnist and veteran actor Chuck Norris to ask if he could help correct the situation.
That “oversight” was fixed in 2009 after U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., and 108 members of Congress expressed concern the historical content was inaccurate, prompting the committee’s determination to make changes.
Also, WND reported in 2006 when Chaplain Todd DuBord, who works with Norris’ TopKick Productions, told WND he was more than startled during his visits to the U.S. Supreme Court and two other historic locations to discover the stories of the nation’s heritage had been sterilized of Christian references.
He visited the courthouse and was surprised that what the tour guides were telling him wasn’t what he was seeing.
“Having done some research (before the trip), I absolutely was not expecting to hear those remarks,” which, he had told WND, “denied history.”
DuBord wrote to the Supreme Court and several other groups, asking them to restore the historic Christian influences to their presentations. He said he was most disturbed by what appeared to be revisionism in the presentations given to visitors at the Supreme Court.
There, he said, his tour guide was describing the marble frieze directly above the justices’ bench: “Between the images of the people depicting the Majesty of the Law and Power of Government, there is a tablet with 10 Roman numerals, the first five down the left side and the last five down the right. This tablet represents the first 10 amendments of the Bill of Rights,” she said.
“The 10 what?” was DuBord’s thought.
Dubord began researching and found a 1975 official U.S. Supreme Court handbook, prepared under the direction of Mark Cannon, administrative assistant to the chief justice. It said, “Directly above the Bench are two central figures, depicting Majesty of the Law and Power of Government. Between them is a tableau of the Ten Commandments.”
Further research produced information that in 1987 the building was designated a National Historic Landmark and came under control of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Under the new management the handbook was rewritten in 1988. The Ten Commandments reference was left out of that edition, and nothing replaced it.
The next reference found said only that the frieze “symbolizes early written laws.” Then in 1999, the handbook refered to the depiction as the “Ten Amendments to the Bill of Rights.”
“The more I got into [his research], the more I saw Christianity had been abandoned from history,” he said.
When DuBord asked, his recent tour guide denied there were any Ten Commandments representations in the Supreme Court building.