- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2000

Prayer is allowed in the Capitol Rotunda, according to a federal judge's ruling in favor of a Maryland pastor who had sued the U.S. Capitol Police for the right to do so.

The decision, issued last Friday and released to the plaintiff on Monday by U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman, said the Capitol Police's curb on prayer is "an impermissible restriction on speech in a public place."

Judge Friedman concluded the inside of the U.S. Capitol is a special forum that should allow public speech as long as it is not disruptive. Speechmaking, the judge wrote, would be disruptive. "Quiet praying, accompanied by bowed heads and folded hands" is not.

Also, he said, the Capitol Police's definition of a "demonstration" go beyond Congress' intent of what should be allowed in the Capitol. Police regulations define a demonstration as "parading, picketing, speechmaking, holding vigils, sit-ins or other expressive conduct that conveys a message supporting or opposing a point of view or has the intent, effect or propensity to attract a crowd of onlookers."

Attorneys for the Capitol Police argued that all prayer is banned inside the Capitol building, unless it is conducted in the chapel or in a designated room at the invitation of a member of Congress. The judge said such a ban is found nowhere in police regulations, nor in congressional statutes.

On Nov. 3, 1996, the Rev. Pierre Bynum of Waldorf Christian Assembly in Waldorf, Md., had his "Capitol Hill Prayer Tour" foiled by Capitol Police. Mr. Bynum was leading a group of about eight persons around open areas of the Capitol building in a tour organized by the Capitol Hill Prayer Alert, a Christian ministry.

Members of Mr. Bynum's group say they were quietly praying by a statue in Statuary Hall, between the Rotunda and the House chamber, when a guard told them to stop. Demonstrations, the guard said, were forbidden inside the Rotunda and the police had defined prayer as a type of demonstration.

Participants decided to continue with the tour but avoided detection by not bowing their heads or folding their hands while praying, the attorney said. After several months of fruitless negotiations with the Capitol Police Board, Mr. Bynum, assisted by the American Center for Law and Justice, filed suit in June 1997.

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