Americans' right to protest on US Capitol grounds expanded 3 years after Jan. 6 riot

Razor wire is shown atop a fence outside the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 13, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Razor wire is shown atop a fence outside the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 13, 2021, in Washington, D.C. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

The right of American citizens to hold peaceful protests on the United States Capitol grounds has been restored nearly three years after the Jan. 6 riot that led to increased security at the complex. 

In a video shared on the Center for American Liberty’s X account, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition announced that “the People’s House has been returned to the people.” Mahoney spoke in front of the U.S. Capitol, recalling, “Tragically, after Jan. 6, the Capitol grounds were surrounded by 10-foot fences with barbed wire and for 18 months, all peaceful First Amendment activity and free speech activities were prohibited.”

“Through the heroic efforts of the Center for American Liberty and after three federal lawsuits, the grounds of the United States Capitol are back open to free speech,” he added. “We are excited to announce after a recent settlement with the United States government, even more free speech rights are afforded to us here at the Capitol.”

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In a statement shared with The Christian Post, the Center for American Liberty elaborated on the additional free speech rights granted to those seeking to hold protests on Capitol grounds. The maximum number of people who can participate in protests without a permit has increased from 19 to 30, and the permit application time has been reduced from 10 to five business days. 

Mahoney’s legal efforts date back to August 2021, when he filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia after his request to hold a prayer vigil on U.S. Capitol grounds in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. The complaint maintained that the U.S. government violated his First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act by denying his request to hold the vigil while allowing other secular protests to take place. 

In his first lawsuit, Mahoney asked for a declaration that the failure to grant his request to hold a vigil on Capitol grounds ran afoul of the U.S. Constitution and federal law, an injunction requiring the government to approve his request and nominal, compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorneys’ fees. 

Harmeet Dhillon, CEO and founder of the Center for American Liberty, reacted to the latest developments in the case by stating, “Reverend Mahoney’s settlement is a triumph for the First Amendment and equal protection, assuring that citizens enjoying their First Amendment rights will be treated no differently than members of Congress on the Capitol steps.” 

As the Center for American Liberty noted, the settlement also includes a provision stating that members of Congress and the organizations they support can only circumvent the permitting requirements to hold protests on Capitol grounds if they either personally organize or sponsor and attend the event. The law firm explained that although the settlement addressed most of Mahoney’s concerns, his case against the buffer zone implemented around the eastern steps of the U.S. Capitol remains ongoing. 

The increased security measures imposed at the U.S. Capitol followed the Jan. 6, 2021, riot where supporters of former President Donald Trump entered the complex as members of the U.S. Congress were starting to debate the electoral votes of the 2020 presidential election. The riot stemmed from concerns about voter fraud in the election, given unprecedented voting changes various states allowed in that election. The settlement came just days before the third anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot. 

Last week’s settlement is not the first legal victory Mahoney has enjoyed as he has sought to hold demonstrations on Capitol grounds. Last year, Mahoney was able to hold a Good Friday service on the complex for the first time in two years after a federal judge ruled in favor of the Christian Defense Coalition. As was the case with his effort to hold a prayer vigil on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Mahoney had his requests to hold Good Friday services on Capitol grounds denied in the previous two years. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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