Arrested for Praying
at Nation's Capitol

[Received by email.  This event did happen, but it seems the govt. was so embarrassed by it that it is not likely to happen again.   I asked a guard at the Capitol about it, and she seemed quite embarrassed about it.   E. Fox]

Sent: Monday, July 07, 1997 4:53 PM
Subject: ACLJ

I sent money to support the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice), founded by Pat Robertson, and in return I receive a newsletter. I was so stunned by this month's featured legal case I just had to send it to you.

YOU COULD BE ARRESTED for praying in our nation's Capital! Each year groups from all over the country come to Washington, D.C. to tour the United States Capitol Building. Recently, Pastor Pierre Bynum from Waldorf, Maryland led a small group of Christians on a self-guided tour of the Capitol Building. Pastor Bynum's group was one of many self-guided tours at the Capitol that particular day. These Christians accompanied Pastor Bynum in order to see the famous sites, study memorable events in the history of our country, view the many historical monuments, and pray.

When the tour group entered the Capitol rotunda they saw one of the most famous paintings in the world, titled The Baptism of Pocahontas, prominently displayed in the Rotunda along with many other artifacts of Christian significance.

As the tour group proceeded through Statuary Hall, where monuments of influential Americans line the walls, they would occasionally stop, discuss the significance of the particular statue they were viewing, and quietly pray. They prayed for our country and for our country's leaders.

It was this quiet prayer which resulted in actual threats of arrest from the United States Park Police. Within the Capitol Building is a chapel with a beautiful stained glass picture of General George Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge. Ironically, President Washington's actions at Valley Forge are now deemed illegal in our nation's Capitol.

Here's what happened:

Outrageous Violation of Religious Freedom

A Park Police officer, who had observed them praying, went to his supervisor and reported that a group of people was involved in an illegal prayer demonstration in the Capitol Building.

As Pastor Bynum's group toured the Capitol they were approached by the U.S. Park Police who notified Pastor Bynum that his tour group was involved in an illegal demonstration. Immediately, the U.S. Park Police told Pastor Bynum that if his group continued to pray, they would be arrested and removed from the building.

Please understand that the only thing Pastor Bynum and his tour group were doing was quietly praying. No one complained about the tour group nor did anyone seem to be bothered by it.

What makes the case even more interesting is that all other private groups that wish to tour the open areas of the Capitol are free to do so without the content of their speech being regulated. In fact, if any private tour group leader spoke negatively about the United States and our democratic principles, their speech would be constitutionally protected. In our case, the prayers of concerned Christian citizens are criminalized. We will not allow this injustice to occur.

When I first heard of these outrageous actions on the part of the federal authorities, I immediately authorized Jim Henderson in our Washington, D. C. office to send a letter outlining the law and demanding that the threats of arrest stop. Frankly, I thought that the officers who threatened arrest were simply overreacting and did not understand the nature of the law.

This case became even more serious when the Office of General Counsel for the Capitol stated that they were sticking by their policies and that prayer would be deemed an illegal form of demonstration. Since the U. S. Park Police refused to change their policy and were continuing to threaten the arrest of anyone who prayed on the Capitol property, we had no choice but to file a federal lawsuit. Jim and our staff in Washington, D.C. spent many hours preparing what is perhaps one of our most important free speech cases of the year. Christians must be able to visit our nation's Capitol and pray for our country and its leaders without the threat of arrest.

Intense Struggle Expected

The significance of this case becomes even more apparent when one considers what happens in other countries. Each year millions of people visit Israel to see the holy sites of the Christian faith. While visiting the various sites, whether it be the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem or the Church of the Nativity, Christians are encouraged to pray without the fear of arrest. Yet in our nation's Capitol those who choose to pray are treated as criminals. We anticipate a hearing on this federal case in the next several months. It appears that the federal government is going to fight us aggressively.

Brian,

PS: The ACLJ website is: http://www.aclj.org in case you are interested. I know this is long, but I really thought you might find it interesting. I haven't checked out their website, but their newsletter is always very well done.

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