Pastor Sues Washington Mayor Over Political Street Lettering

June 15, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
The Washington Monument and the White House are visible behind the words Black Lives Matter sign that has been painted in bright yellow letters on the 16th Street by city workers and activists, Friday, June 5, 2020, in Washington. (Khalid Naji-Allah/Executive Office of the Mayor via AP)

A self-described street pastor is suing Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser over her decision to commission a street mural that says “Black Lives Matter” in large letters on a street near the White House.

The lawsuit filed by Rich Penkoski says the mayor is violating the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause that requires a separation of church and state.

He accused Bowser of showing a governmental preference for a “cult orthodoxy” by allowing the yellow lettering painted on two blocks of 16th Street NW.

The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington also says the mayor’s decision to change the name on part of a street to “Black Lives Matter Plaza” shows she is trying “to pay respect to the Black Lives Matter liturgy at the taxpayers expense.”

Penkoski, who heads the group D.C. Chapter of the Warriors for Christ, is not opposed to religion, only what he describes as Bowser’s preferential treatment for the religiously affiliated Black Lives Matter movement.

The lawsuit also accuses the mayor of violating the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause because the street mural allegedly implies black people are the city’s favored race. 

The Equal Protection Clause says “nor shall any State […] deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”.

The lawsuit says, “Defendant Bowser’s paramount objective was to convey to the plaintiffs and all other taxpayers the Black Lives Matter cult, which is a denominational sect of the religion of Secular Humanism, is the favored religion of the city and the nation and that another who disagrees with their gospel narrative is a second class citizen.”

The mayor commissioned the street mural with 35-foot wide lettering last week ahead of a huge demonstration. It was part of the racial protests following the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

The painters were hired by the city’s Department of Public Works.

The outcry against the street lettering was joined by conservative watchdog Judicial Watch.

The group asked Bowser for permission to paint “Because No One is Above the Law!” on a Capitol Hill street.

“Mayor Bowser made a decision to turn D.C. streets into a forum for public expression,” Judicial Watch said in a statement. “Judicial Watch seeks equal access to use this new forum to educate Americans…”

The lawsuit by Penkoski and two other men also seeks equal access for street lettering.

They want three murals in the streets, one reading “Blue Lives Matter” in a reference to police,”’Green Lives Matter” for the National Guard and “All Lives Matter.”

The plaintiffs were further offended by the mayor’s decision to rename a corner of Lafayette Square as “Black Lives Matter Plaza.” They want a different street corner to be renamed “Jesus is the answer Plaza.”

Black Lives Matter Plaza lies near the church where President Trump arranged a controversial photo opportunity in which he held up a Bible.

The lawsuit seeks damages for mental anguish and emotional distress. It alleges a violation of the plaintiffs’ “constitutional rights.”

No specific monetary amount was listed in the claim for damages.

The other plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are Chris Servier, a former military attorney; and Tex Christopher, a lobbyist.

Bowser said in a television interview that although she supports the Black Lives Matter movement, she does not support their calls to defund the police.

The activists want the money for police turned over to community education on social justice issues.

Instead, Bowser proposes increasing the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department budget.

She also supports restrictions on police authority, such as banning chokeholds, no more use of rubber bullets against protesters and limited authority for tear gas.

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