Judge rules that U.S. Capitol's eastern steps are a free speech zone

 May 20, 2024

Much to the dismay of Democrats, a judge has just issued a ruling in which he declared that the steps to the eastern entrance of the U.S. Capitol building are a free speech zone. 

According to the Epoch Times, Judge Hames Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia made the ruling in an opinion that he released on May 17, 2024. Boasberg was appointed by former President Barack Obama.

This is being considered a big win for the First Amendment.

The case comes from a pastor named Patrick Mahoney. The Times describes Mahoney as "a Christian activist who has persistently challenged the limitations on demonstration activity all over the Capitol grounds."

The lawsuit

This case goes all the way back to 2021, when Mahoney applied for a permit to hold a prayer vigil on the Western Front Lawn of the Capitol.

The U.S. Capitol Police refused to grant his request, claiming that it was not safe to do so given what happened on Jan. 6, 2021.

Subsequently, Mahoney brought multiple complaints against the U.S. Capitol Police, claiming that they were essentially discriminating against his viewpoint - and thus violating the First Amendment - by rejecting his requests to hold gatherings on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, while granting the requests of others.

One example that Mahoney brought up in these complaints is that of U.S. Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), who was allowed, in August 2021, to hold a large demonstration on the eastern steps of the Capitol to try to get President Joe Biden to extend the residential eviction moratorium that had been in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This, apparently, was enough to convince Judge Boasberg.

A "traditional public forum"

Boasberg has now ruled that the eastern steps of the Capitol are a traditional public forum and, thus, open to free speech.

“Like the sidewalks immediately next to them, the steps are continually open, often uncongested, and a place where people may enjoy the open air or the company of friends and neighbors. More importantly, these steps and others like them have historically been used for purposes of assembly and discussing public questions," the judge wrote.

He added, “In light of all this, the Court ultimately agrees with Plaintiff that at least the lower portion of the Eastern Steps on which he wishes to demonstrate are the kind of public property that has been historically associated with the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

Mahoney was represented in the matter by the Center of American Liberty, a nonprofit civil rights group.

The group released a statement, celebrating the victory, saying:

Today’s ruling from the court smashes that stranglehold, ensuring that every American—regardless of whether they have a member of Congress in their pocket—can exercise their right to free speech on the U.S. Capitol Grounds. Today is a new day for demonstrations and free expression on the U.S. Capitol Grounds.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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