Got news? Supreme prayer files

Visitors walk down the front steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building as Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan begins her U.S. Senate confirmation hearings in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington June 28, 2010.   REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)

It’s difficult to understand why only FOX News Radio and World Net Daily thought this was news. I gave it a few days to incubate. To no avail.

Here’s the story from the more journalistically neutral of the two:

A group of Christian students was allegedly ordered to stop praying outside the U.S. Supreme Court building on May 5 because a court police officer told them it was against the law.

The students were part of a junior high school American History class at Wickenburg Christian Academy in Arizona. After taking pictures on the steps of the Supreme Court building, their teacher gathered them to a side location where they formed a circle and began to pray.

According to Nate Kellum, senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, a police officer “abruptly” interrupted the prayer and ordered the group to cease and desist.

“They were told to stop praying because they were violating the law and they had to take their prayer elsewhere,” Kellum told FOX News Radio.

You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.

What law was in question? It’s not crucial for our purposes, but FOX News Radio reported that the officer may have thought 40 U.S.C. Section 6135 applied. That law deems it “unlawful to parade, stand or move in processions or assemblages in the building and grounds, including the plaza and steps, but not including the perimeter sidewalks.”

Did this group constitute a parade? Probably not. But should other news outlets have picked up on this story? I’d think so.

It’s not that this was a BIG story. Decades after the Supreme Court ruled school prayer unconstitutional and a full decade since the Court has heard any case on the subject, I highly doubt that there is a campaign to keep prayer away from 1 1st Street and everything that goes on inside.

In fact, the FOX News Radio story at least suggests that the officer’s action violated a non-policy (that being that there is no Court policy prohibiting prayer). So maybe this is a non-story. But that just about everyone completely overlooked it strikes me as odd.

At the least, this is the kind of quirky one-off stories that editors love. (Though I am now realizing that I neglected to mention it on The God Blog.) Why not at least give it a mention? Especially when you consider that this happened just before the National Day of Prayer.

Could the Alliance Defense Fund, which has taken up the students’ cause, be to blame? It was their open letter to the Court July 15 that got this story out there. But while they might be striving to be the ACLU of conservative Christian causes, their causes celebre tend to receive a much different reception from media members.

Or could it be that at two-plus months this story was just too old?

Or could it be something else entirely?

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  • Dave

    Did this group constitute a parade? Probably not.

    Probably yes. When a nascent Cleveland Pagan group decided to hold a public Pagan ritual on Public Square, we needed a parade permit from the city. BTW that group is still putting on annual public rituals, and still getting the requisite paperwork from City Hall.

  • Jeffrey

    But while they might be striving to be the ACLU of conservative Christian causes, their causes celebre tend to receive a much different reception from media members.

    Does it? The ADF has a pretty powerful PR machine and they are in the press all the time. They are as opportunistic as the ACLU when looking for attention. It would be interesting to see some support for this contention beyond just a tossed-off “the liberal media is biased” allegation.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    I’m actually not generally a believer in the “liberal media,” though I agree that journalists more often than not lean liberal.

  • Bern

    “What law” the officer was referring to is “not crucial to our purposes?” Beg to differ: it’s a basic journalistic question, and Fox gets a point for trying but not doing the best job of it.

    And I think the statute does apply: the group was admittedly “standing” on the area in question. Now, maybe if they’d knelt down they’d have a complaint, as kneeling is not prohibited by the statute quoted (nor is sitting).

  • Jeffrey

    That doesn’t mean, however, that they are ignoring the media machine at the ADF because they like the ACLU better. I realize those kinds of off-hand comments are second-nature in blogging, but they also happen to create a specific media narrative that may not be true.

    Protests happen 10 times a day in Washington. That these specific protests didn’t get coverage beyond the conservative media doesn’t mean there was some intentional ignoring of a story. Instead, it could represent an attempt by the conservative media to overhype a controversy because it plays into a narrative their readers and viewers share.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    Indeed, Bern, FOX News did the right thing by looking up, citing and quoting the statute. I only meant that this reference wasn’t crucial to discussion of why other media outlets passed on this story.

    And Jeffrey, it seems like you and I have a different reading of what this student group was up to. My understanding was that they were praying and nothing more. If this was the case, I say it’s a story. But I agree that if we adopted your perspective that this group was protesting, or at the least was looking for a fight, then it becomes less newsworthy.