A police officer in America has told a group of teachers and children praying outside the US Supreme Court that they should find somewhere else to go.
American organisation the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) has warned that the police action breaches constitutional free speech rights.
“Christians shouldn’t be silenced for exercising their beliefs through quiet prayer on public property”, Nate Kellum from ADF said.
ADF say legal action is likely if Supreme Court officials do not affirm the right to pray on Court grounds.
On 5 May a group of teachers, pupils and others prayed outside the US Supreme Court while on a school trip.
The group, from a Christian school, was praying quietly when a police officer approached Maureen Rigo, the teacher in charge of the group, and told them to move on.
The police officer 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”, according to press reports.
The party then moved to the street level and prayed on the pavement.
The prayer was stopped under a statute which bars parades and processions on Supreme Court grounds, but ADF say banning such prayers makes no sense.
An ADF letter says that 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.
“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 partiality. The ban on public prayers cannot hope to survive First Amendment scrutiny”, the letter adds.
ADF continue: “The only logical explanation for prohibiting Mrs. Rigo’s activities, while allowing other conversations, pertains to the viewpoint of Mrs. Rigo’s expression.
“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.”
In May last year a Californian pastor and his wife had their Bible study group broken up when they were told they needed a permit for the meetings.
A few days later the couple received a written warning accusing them of “unlawful use of land”. It said they could either “stop religious assembly or apply for a major use permit”.
However later the authorities said the meetings could continue while a decision on a permit was made.