Catholic Law Professor Sarah H. Duggin, along with her colleague Donald Crane, recently had an article published in George Mason University’s Civil Rights Law Journal. In the article, “Commandeering the Churchyard: The First Amendment Implications of the Government’s June 2020 Assault on St. John’s – Lafayette Square,” Duggin and Crane discuss First Amendment implications of the assault on St. John’s during the June 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.
George Mason University - Civil Rights Law Journal
Date: Spring 2022
By: Sarah H. Duggin and Donald Crane
Commandeering the Churchyard: The First Amendment Implications of the Government’s June 2020 Assault on St. John’s – Lafayette Square
What happens to the First Amendment when sacred ground becomes a battleground?
On Monday, June 1, 2020, Black Lives Matter protestors assembled in Washington, D.C. and throughout our nation to protest the murder of George Floyd and call for an end to systemic racism. Late that afternoon, after driving protestors away from Lafayette Square, law enforcement personnel in riot gear forcibly evicted clergy, lay ministers, and others peacefully gathered for prayer, ministry, and witness on the grounds of St. John’s-Lafayette Square Episcopal Church. Shortly thereafter, after calling for government forces to dominate the streets, former President Donald Trump walked to the church for a photo op. Mr. Trump hoisted a Bible in front of the empty churchyard, utilizing St. John’s as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the church’s theology. The government’s actions – literally invasion and commandeering of the churchyard – were unprecedented in our nation’s history.
This article explores substantive First Amendment implications of the assault on St. John’s with a particular focus on the Religion Clauses and Compelled Speech Doctrine. It concludes: (1) by forcibly commandeering St. John’s churchyard for the President’s photo op, the government violated the Free Exercise Clause; and (2) by replacing the church’s own voice with a message antithetical to its theology, the government compelled the church to endorse Mr. Trump’s message, thereby violating the Free Speech Clause and raising significant Establishment Clause concerns.