A Presbyterian minister is suing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. Capitol Police Board, and the Senate Sergeant at Arms, claiming that the continued presence of a fence blocking off the area surrounding the Capitol building is violating his First Amendment rights.
Rev. Patrick Mahoney says in his complaint, filed Tuesday in federal court, that he has been trying to hold a prayer vigil for Good Friday on the sidewalk near the Lower Western Terrace of the Capitol, but authorities denied his request. Mahoney claims that he has held many similar events at the same location in the past, including last year, when he worked with Capitol Police to make sure the event complied with COVID-19 restrictions.
"These acts by Defendants have effectively created a no-speech zone in one of the most important public forums in the nation," the complaint reads.
The area around the Capitol has been fenced off and the National Guard has been present in the area following the violent protest that took place on Jan. 6. Mahoney said that incident was part of the inspiration for the vigil, stating in the lawsuit that it is "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."
An email from Capitol Police to Mahoney obtained by Fox News said that the area where the minister wanted to hold the vigil was "restricted" and therefore his permit request could not be processed. As an alternative, a police lieutenant said Mahoney could apply to hold the vigil at a sidewalk area that Mahoney told Fox News was "quite far from where I wanted to be."
Mahoney claims that his prohibition from holding the vigil violates his First Amendment rights of free speech, assembly, and free exercise of religion. He also claims violations of his Fifth Amendment right to due process and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Fox News reached out to Pelosi, Harris, and the Capitol Police Board for comment on the lawsuit, but they did not immediately respond.
Mahoney's lawsuit was brought on his behalf by the Center for American Liberty.
"Denying a minister and faithful parishioners the ability to pray outside the U.S. Capitol is unfathomable and violates First Amendment guarantees for traditional public forums," the center's CEO, Harmeet K. Dhillon, said in a statement.
Fox News' Brooke Singman contributed to this report.