THE Bishop of Washington, the Rt Revd Mariann Budde, has expressed her “deep disappointment” at the United States Justice Department’s decision to drop lawsuits against Donald Trump over the forcible removal of protesters from outside St John’s Episcopal Church, opposite the White House, before Mr Trump’s photoshoot with a Bible in 2020.
Last June, while riots, sparked by the death of George Floyd, continued to escalate, Mr Trump, then President, posed with a Bible outside the church in Lafayette Square, which US Park Police had reportedly cleared of protesters minutes before, using teargas and physical force (News, 5 June 2020).
A civil lawsuit was filed by protesters against Mr Trump and William Barr, his Attorney General at the time. Last Friday, however, President Biden’s Justice Department argued that the former President and his officials were immune from lawsuits over law-enforcement actions intended to protect him.
Bishop Budde said in a statement on Monday: “I am deeply disappointed that the United States Department of Justice has asked a federal court to dismiss the actions brought against the government by protesters who suffered physical injuries and violations of their First Amendment rights.
“The tear gas, flash grenades, and other tactics employed that day injured innocent people and led to the forcible eviction of clergy and others gathered on the grounds of one of the churches of my diocese solely to allow the former President to use images of our church and its Holy Scriptures to convey a message antithetical to the church’s teaching.
“The rule of law means little if those injured by these egregious actions are denied the opportunity to challenge their constitutionality fully and fairly. Even a president is not above the Constitution.”
An Episcopalian priest and executive director of Faithful America, the Revd Nathan Empsall, told the Episcopal News Service: “Donald Trump and William Barr are out of office, but the evil white supremacy and violent Christian nationalism on display when they teargassed peaceful racial-justice protesters for a blasphemous Bible photo-op remain deep-seated forces in US politics.”
On Thursday, however, a report from the Interior Office concluded that the area had been cleared, not to make way for a photoshoot, but in for anti-scale fencing to be installed by contractors, the BBC reports.
Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt said that the park had been cleared “several hours” before the presidential visit. “Our fine Park Police made the decision to clear the park to allow a contractor to safely install anti-scale fencing to protect from Antifa rioters, radical BLM protesters and other violent demonstrators who are causing chaos and death to our cities.”
Mr Trump praised the report and the Inspector General for “exonerating” him.