An evangelical group is celebrating a victory for religious freedom after Capitol Police allowed ministers to read from the Bible on Thursday in front of the Capitol Christmas tree despite previous threats of arrests and fines.
The Washington, D.C. police force allowed Christian Defense Coalition Director the Rev. Patrick Mahoney and Hillside Missions Director Kris Keating to read Bible passages and display a miniature Nativity scene on Capitol Hill uninterrupted.
Mahoney, who initially warned his supporters that he would be arrested Thursday, and the Christian Defense Coalition praised the Capitol Police for showing restraint.
“The Christian Defense Coalition applauds the Capitol Police for doing the right thing and allowing free speech and religious expression to be celebrated on the lawn of the United States Capitol Building,” the group stated in a Thursday evening statement.
Mahoney organized the protest because the 63-foot tall official 2011 Capitol Christmas tree appeared to carry no visible ornaments representing Christmas or Jesus Christ.
The state of California reportedly donated the tree to the Capitol and decided the tree’s theme, “California shines.” The tree does feature one Christmas themed ornament-a pie-tin ornament displaying a miner panning for gold with a Bible nearby. The ornament also features the words “Psalm 19” and “More precious than gold.”
However CNSNews.com, which first reported the story, said the faith-themed ornament was not “readily visible.”
Mahoney alerted the Capitol Police of his protest plans earlier in the week and was told his actions may warrant police action. The Capitol Police general counsel sent a more detailed explanation to Mahoney’s attorney.
The email sent Tuesday stated, "Your use of the Bible or the ornament (Nativity Scene) would convert your activity, in the view of the Capitol Police, into a prohibited demonstration. If you failed to discontinue that activity on police direction you would be risking ticketing or arrest."
Mahoney, a political activist who has been arrested before, made plans to continue with the protest. However, he lamented the police’s warning as a sign of “growing hostility” to Christmas and Christianity.
"Sadly, we are seeing a growing hostility toward public expressions of faith in the public square especially during the Christmas Season,” he stated.
After conducting the protest without incident, he and the Christian Defense Coalition praised the Capitol Police for its change of heart.
The group also urged evangelicals to follow Mahoney’s example and be more assertive about expressing their faith in the public square.
“Simply stated, it is important to stand up against ‘bullies’ when they try to crush free speech and religious liberty and ensure that every American is allowed to express their faith tradition in the public square free from government intimidation or oppression,” the group stated.