Concluding a class trip to the Supreme Court, Maureen Rigo and her class from Wickenburg Christian Academy, Wickenburg, AZ, stopped to pray on the Oval Plaza in front of the Court steps. The Supreme Court police ushered the teacher and her class from the steps, having deemed their behavior unlawful—actions that bring to the fore questions of the religious neutrality of public space and the application of the First Amendment. Cybercast News Service reports:
The Alliance Defense Fund sent a letter to the Supreme Court police Marshall Pamela Talkin, public information officer Kathleen Arberg, and Court counsel Scott Harris last Thursday asking for assurance that Rigo and her students will be allowed to pray on Court grounds without being harassed during their next visit.
“The only logical explanation for prohibiting Mrs. Rigo’s activities, while allowing other conversations, pertains to the viewpoint of Mrs. Rigo’s expression,” the letter stated. “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.”
If Rigo does not receive written assurance that her right to pray is protected within three weeks, Kellum said the Alliance Defense Fund will pursue federal court action.
To James Heiser, of the libertarian New American, this incident exemplifies the dangers posed by President Obama’s recent decision to discuss “religious freedom” in terms of “freedom of worship”:
The shift in terminology, though subtle, is very significant, because it can justifiably be interpreted to imply that religious freedom is restricted to the rites conducted in places of worship if only “freedom of worship” is being upheld. “Religious freedom” is a much broader concept, extending to the expression of one’s beliefs in many areas of life.
The article goes on to argue that it was this concept of “freedom of worship” that informed the police’s decision to see Rigo’s class’s prayer not as a quiet act of religious freedom, but rather as a violation of statute 40 U.S.C. §6135 (“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”).
Maureen Rigo and her class’s ostensibly innocent attempt at prayer, Heiser argues, is indicative of a broader transformation:
Subtle changes in legal terminology can mean an enormous change in public policy. A change from “freedom of religion” to “freedom of worship” could mark the transition from a faith which has implications for life in the public square to an expression of beliefs that must be hidden from public view.
Continue reading here. Interestingly, the incident has not been widely reported outside of Christian, conservative, and/or libertarian outlets.