A Christian legal firm has threatened U.S. Supreme Court officials with a lawsuit unless they state in writing that people can quietly pray on the court's grounds.
A letter was sent by the Alliance Defense Fund on Thursday on behalf of a Wickenburg, Ariz., teacher who was prohibited by a Supreme Court police officer in May from praying with her students on the steps of the court.
"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," ADF Senior Counsel Nate Kellum argues in the letter. "The ban on private prayers cannot hope to survive First Amendment scrutiny."
Maureen Rigo is a teacher at Wickenburg Christian Academy, a nearly 20-year-old school that provides Christ-centered education and child care to students from preschool to eighth grade. She and a group of 10 students and three parents traveled to Washington, D.C., the week of May 3-7 on a Christian Discoveries study tour.
On May 5, the group took pictures on the front steps of the Supreme Court and then gathered off to the side, at the top of the bottom level of steps to pray. They stood in a circle, bowed their heads and began praying on a conversational level when an officer stopped them.
He told Rigo, "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," as reported by SonoranNews.com. She asked, "Since when?" And he replied, "This week."
They moved to the street level and prayed on the sidewalk.
The incident came a day before the National Day of Prayer, an annual prayer event that was ruled unconstitutional earlier this year by a federal judge.
Rigo has toured the nation's capital with her students for several years but this was the first time they weren't allowed to pray at national monuments.
"Christians shouldn't be silenced for exercising their beliefs through quiet prayer on public property," says Kellum of ADF. "The last place you'd expect this kind of obvious disregard for the First Amendment would be on the grounds of the U.S. Supreme Court itself, but that's what happened."
Kellum contends in the letter to Supreme Court officials that Rigo and her students were not praying loudly as to be heard or trying to attract attention. They were simply communicating to each other and to God, he said.
He further accuses the officer of viewpoint discrimination for silencing prayers that were said on a conversational level but allowing people to converse with each other on Supreme Court grounds.
"Evidently, people may engage in all sorts of conversational expression on Supreme Court grounds unless that expression happens to involve prayer," Kellum argues.
Rigo has expressed her desire to return to the court grounds and engage in prayer without fear of punishment. Kellum has thus demanded that Supreme Court officials provide a written notice that will allow Rigo to engage in conversational level prayers. Otherwise, they will take legal action.