President Bush’s 2001 inauguration parade (Photo:

A Christian group is accusing the U.S. Secret Service of religious discrimination and censorship for issuing a memo that bans Christian crosses from the presidential inauguration parade later this month.

Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Christian Defense Coalition, contends the Secret Service has “trampled the First Amendment and crushed religious freedom in the public square.”

“Simply put, it is religious bigotry and censorship,” he said. “It is even more troubling when one realizes that it is only Christian symbols that have been excluded from the inauguration parade.”

Tom Mazur, spokesman for the Secret Service, told WorldNetDaily the prohibition is simply a security matter that has nothing to do with the religious nature of the cross.

“The reference to the cross is strictly in regard to structure, certainly not the symbol,” he said. “There is no prohibition based on content, only structure or materials that could be used in a potentially harmful or threatening manner.”

The prohibition was issued in a Dec. 17 memo to the National Park Service that the Christian Defense Coalition received along with its approved demonstration permit.

Mahoney told WND his group plans to be at the Jan. 20 event for a prayer vigil and “to challenge President Bush to remember the innocent children who have been lost through abortion and to appoint pro-life justices.”

The Secret Service memo says, in part:

With respect to signs and placards, the Secret Service would ask that these items be limited to items made of cardboard, poster board or cloth and have dimensions no greater than three feet in width, twenty feet in length and one-quarter inch thickness. As noted above, we are asking that supports for signs and placards be prohibited as these items may be used as a means of concealing weapons or as weapons themselves.”

Additionally, the prohibition on structures includes props, folding chairs, bicycles, displays such as puppets papier mache objects, coffins, crates, crosses, theaters, cages and statues.

The Department of Homeland Security has designated the four days of inauguration events a National Special Security Event, putting the Secret Service in charge of overall security planning.

Already, security has been heightened around the White House, where police have set up a street checkpoint with a sign reading “100 percent ID check.”

Mazur said crosses would be allowed at the parade site if they conform to the same material and size restrictions applied to signs and placards. For example, a cross made of cardboard could be brought, he affirmed.

But Mahoney told WND that explanation “doesn’t fly,” arguing that the prohibition outlined in the memo bans crosses outright and does not say they are allowed if they meet certain restrictions, such as those mentioned for signs and placards.

“Are coffins allowed if they are the right material and size, or bicycles?” he asked.

In the past, he said, his group has brought wooden crosses to the inauguration “to remind people of innocent lives lost through abortion.”

Mahoney said his legal team likely will send a letter to the Secret Service demanding the agency rescind the prohibition on crosses.

“The only way we would not go to court on this — the Secret Service would have to issue an apology and remove that ban altogether,” he said.

Mahoney’s 12-year-old group has been at every inauguration since 1993, he said. In 1997, he successfully sued in federal court for the right to get a demonstration permit for President Clinton’s second inaugural parade. Prior to that, no protest permits were issued for the event, he said.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time the federal government has ever singled crosses out,” said Mahoney. “I have been involved in public ministry and demonstrations for 27 years, and I have never heard of a cross being used as a weapon anywhere.”

His group plans to hold a news conference tomorrow at the corner of 4th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. NW in Washington, in front of the Canadian Embassy.

At this location, the group also plans to conduct a prayer vigil and demonstration during the parade.

The Christian Defense Coalition was in the news last year as a prominent organizer of rallies in defense of ousted Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s Ten Commandments monument.

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