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Secret Service Sued For Cuba Protest

April 21, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Christian group sued the government Friday, asking a judge to order the Secret Service to let its members pray on a public sidewalk outside the Cuban Interests Section.

The lawsuit alleges agents violated free speech and religious liberty rights of its members by barring their sidewalk prayers at a demonstration this week.

The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said three members of the group were threatened with arrest when they knelt to pray on the sidewalk in front of the Cuban diplomatic mission. He said Secret Service officers ordered them to move across the street but let other pedestrians continue to use the sidewalk in front of the building.

The suit seeks a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to clear the way for another prayer vigil, which Mahoney said is planned Saturday evening.

``This was done by the Secret Service, an extension of our own government. It is an outrage, it is a disgrace,″ he said. ``We are here because we believe in the First Amendment. We will not be bullied. We will not be intimidated.″

A Secret Service spokeswoman said the agency could not comment on a case in litigation and referred calls the U.S. Attorney’s office. A hearing was scheduled Friday before U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy.

The Christian Defense Coalition wants Elian Gonzalez to be allowed to stay in the United States.

``If you love your son, seek political asylum here in America. Do not subject him to the tyranny of Cuba,″ Mahoney said in a plea directed at Juan Miguel Gonzalez. ``If you love your son, get on a plane and go to Miami and be with your son.″

He alleged that the Secret Service, which protects diplomatic missions in the United States, targeted the coalition because it disagrees with the White House on the Gonzalez case.

Their suit was filed by the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative public interest law.

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