WASHINGTON—Call it a First Amendment exercise or call it a publicity stunt, but it’s a scene played out over and over again in D.C.: A group with a bone to pick descends on the White House, poses for pictures and starts yelling. If the demonstrators really mean it, they venture onto the sidewalk and ignore warnings by park police in order to get arrested.
A consortium of Christian organizations called ActsFive29 announced in August it would prayerfully occupy the space in front of the White House for three days in early October. The groups represented included the Christian Defense Coalition, Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, Priests for Life, the American Family Association, and Stand Up for Religious Freedom.
The group attracted the attention of weekend tourists whose reactions ranged from genuinely curious to downright snarky, with one onlooker punctuating the protesters’ singing of the national anthem with an enthusiastic “Play ball!”
Event organizer Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition told the Alibi the demonstration was not about abortion, contraception or any other women’s health issue but about religious rights—despite the presence of several groups whose focus is outlawing abortion. In fact, during the interview, three anti-abortion activists stood nearby engaging in a heated debate with an abortion rights supporter who was passing by. Mahoney was focused on RU-486 and denouncing Depo-Provera as an abortifacient.
The reverend insisted this was a First Amendment issue and said he does not consider the denial of contraception to be discriminatory towards women. His suggestion for women who might feel inappropriately subjected to their employer’s religious beliefs? They “should go work for someone else.”
Mahoney also revealed his position goes extends beyond contraception to any treatment perceived to be morally offensive. “If the government comes in and dictates to any faith tradition that they have to violate their deeply held faith traditions, then it’s wrong.” He likened their fight to the Civil Rights Movement.
But on Sunday, he showed discomfort at the demonstrators singing “We Shall Overcome” as they marched toward the White House. His quickly redirected the singers to “Amazing Grace.”
In all, 68 were arrested: 22 on Saturday, 34 on Sunday, 12 on Monday, according to ActsFive29. Several minors were among those arrested. Though the demonstration was scheduled to continue through Tuesday, Oct. 2, no one, including Mahoney, showed up that day. The arrests were carried out without incident, and all demonstrators were released after paying a $100 fine.