By James Tillman and Kathleen Gilbert
WASHINGTON, DC, June 9, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, was arrested on Tuesday for praying on property where hundreds have prayed before - in front of the Washington, DC Planned Parenthood (PP) facility.
The grass and walkway between the facility and the road have often been the scene of peaceful prayer protests. Several weeks ago, however, PP built a fence around the walkway and put up signs claiming that the area is private property.
According to Mahoney and others, however, the claim is absurd.
"Thomas Jefferson said eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," Mahoney told LSN on Friday. "So if you don't stand up for free speech rights, they can be stripped or removed. And that's what we'll be doing on Tuesday."
Hence, at about 11:30 on Tuesday, after informing police of his intention, Rev. Mahoney knelt on the sidewalk leading to Planned Parenthood and began praying. A few moments later, police arrested him for unlawful entry.
"We're not blocking what they want to say. We're preventing them from trespassing onto private property," said Diane Quest, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman, according to Congress.org.
But according to Mahoney and his lawyer Jim Henderson, this claim is but the latest of many deceptions by PP over this piece of land.
Mahoney told LSN that in the 1980s, Planned Parenthood claimed that the sidewalk was private property, and so pro-lifers refrained from protesting and praying on it.
But after Mahoney was charged with violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) act in the 90s, he discovered over the course of the litigation that it was in fact public.
Jim Henderson of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) explained further.
"DC is a peculiar place. Things that in other areas might look like somebody's front lawn actually are District of Columbia property, not private property," he told LSN. In this case, he continued, the District owns everything within 50 feet of the curb face on the street - practically up to the front door of the Planned Parenthood.
In fact, he continued, in years past Planned Parenthood attempted to put up a fence and was cited for illegal construction. This time they correctly pursued and obtained a fence permit from the city, he said.
"What they didn't get was ownership of that property inside the fence," he explained. "But they've been acting like it."
Before his arrest, Mahoney said that he planned to issue a national call for activists to come pray inside the fence. “We would invite people, five at a time, to come on the sidewalk and pray," he said.
"We're going to fight it in criminal court, we're going to consider injunctive relief. This sidewalk will be open."
Henderson said that although the police claimed to simply be enforcing trespassing laws, he had spoken with them enough that they ought to have known better.
"They are in possession of enough information to know that they should not be arresting for tresspassing in this case," he told LifeSiteNews. "I don't think its reasonable behavior on the part of the police."
See related stories on LifeSiteNews.com:
D.C. Prohibits Prayer and Free Speech on Sidewalk outside Planned Parenthood