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Judge tosses claim Trump administration violated activists’ rights by clearing protesters for church photo-op

·1-min read
Judge tosses claim Trump administration violated activists’ rights by clearing protesters for church photo-op
Donald Trump holds a Bible while visiting St. John's Church across from the White House after the area was cleared of people protesting the death of George Floyd June 1, 2020, in Washington, DC (AFP via Getty Images)
Donald Trump holds a Bible while visiting St. John's Church across from the White House after the area was cleared of people protesting the death of George Floyd June 1, 2020, in Washington, DC (AFP via Getty Images)

A federal judge threw out a lawsuit which claimed that the Trump administration had violated the civil rights of protesters cleared from a church near the White House so the former president could stage a photo-op.

Activists and civil liberties groups had claimed that Mr Trump and other officials conspired to violate the First Amendment rights of protesters who were cleared so the then-president could pose for pictures in front of St John’s Episcopal Church.

US District Judge Dabney Friedrich, a 2017 appointee by Mr Trump, ruled that the conspiracy claims was “simply too speculative” and ruled that the federal defendants, including then-Attorney General William Barr, were immune from civil liability.

In his 51-page ruling, the judge did allow claims against the Metropolitan Police Department and the Arlington Police Department, whose officers cleared the park, to move forward.

The high-profile June 2020 incident saw law enforcement force protesters back from Lafayette Square using tear gas and smoke bombs.

When the crowd was cleared, Mr Trump and a group of his senior aides, including Mr Barr, walked to the historic church, which had days earlier been damaged in a fire.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Black Lives Matters DC and individual protestors, by the ACLU of DC and other civil rights organisations.

The ruling was criticised for setting an “extremely dangerous precedent” by Arthur Ago, the director of the criminal justice project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“We will always stand up for the rights of those peacefully demonstrating for racial justice, and this ruling sends the wrong message for police accountability efforts at a time when it is needed the most,” said Mr Ago in a statement.

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