“You are not allowed to pray at the mall. That’s against the policy.”
The security guard told them that they have had problems with people “proselytizing” shoppers, an act which, even though many would see it as falling under the Freedom of Speech provision of the U.S. Constitution, Brantley’s group was not doing. They were simply praying in a circle before beginning their power walk. The ladies said that no one outside of the group would even have been able to hear them.
“The group was started to be healthy and to be spiritually healthy, too,” Tammy Brantley told the local media. It is her custom to “start off my runs with a prayer and end it with a prayer.”
This haft to be a mistake, they thought. Perhaps the mall cop was overzealous and misunderstood the mall’s policy. Some of the Dublin Girls asked to speak with the manager to help clear up what they believed was certainly a misunderstanding.
In fact, it was even worse than they thought. Shockingly, the manager of the mall told them that, because the mall was private property, they were allowed to make their rules, and one of them was that prayer is not allowed.
One of the walkers asked the obvious question: “Sir, are you saying that people who eat in the food court can’t bow their heads and pray?” She reports that his response was very clear: “He said, ‘No ma’am.’ That’s exactly what he said.”
That evening, Tammy Brantley posted on Facebook about her experience at the mall. A local journalist picked up on the story, and news began to spread.
Reporters found that they were unable to reach the mall management for comment.
It has been alleged that the dubious rule was put into place after The Laurens Baptist Association was trying to witness at the mall recently, but LBA director Bobby Jones has “no clue what they are talking about,” denying that the group has held an event or even been out there at the Dublin Mall recently.
The community is outraged. The malls Facebook page filled up with 1-star reviews. Customers have voiced opposition to the policy on social media, expressing their disappointment in the management’s chilling the free speech and freedom of religion rights of its customers at the mall.
Many have vowed not to patronize the mall’s many stores, which include JCPenney, Belk, Rite Aid, Goody’s, Bath & Body, Kay Jewelers, Office Max, Gamestop, and Starbucks, among others. Others have expressed the hope that the merchants will push back against the policy that has alienated many of their customers in the local area.
Georgia is part of the deep South, in what is still considered “the Bible belt.” The actions of the mall’s management are not going over well. But if a group of Muslims or Hindus or Jews were told that they couldn’t pray at the mall, it would be equally as wrong, and just as disturbing.
A “Power Display of Prayer” was organized on a grass-roots level by Brandon Berry and others that will take place Thursday evening at 6 pm at the Dublin Mall. Supporters will be meeting in the grassy area between the mall parking lot and the road to pray together as a group, taking a peaceful stand for the right to pray.
Organizer Berry is an Army veteran who says that he has many friends of different faiths, which “doesn’t bother me one bit. So why should those ladies saying a prayer, or me bowing my head while I eat my dinner, bother anyone?”
Today, John Engler, vice president of MCK, released the following statement.
“The Dublin Mall over the last week has been the subject of conversation throughout the community. Through meeting with some of the various people involved, some of the stories have merit while others have gone off the deep end and due to the sensitive issue have publically hampered the Dublin Mall. The Mall first and foremost has no issues or objection whatsoever with anyone of any religion denomination privately and quietly praying over there food before they eat or showing devotion towards their religion of choice provided it does not impose itself on others or take away from the overall shopping experience.”
Some see this as a small victory, but others see it as falling far short of the apology and change of policy regarding prayer that is needed. Obviously, the mall security cannot be “thought police” and stop people from praying silently. No one can. The Dublin Girls maintain that their prayer was not interfering with any other shoppers and were not affecting any of the merchants.
In May, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed that prayer may be held in government meetings without being a violation of the Constitution.
The question is:
Is it acceptable for a business that opens itself up as a public meeting place to place restrictions on the speech or religious expression of their patrons? NO, it is definitely not!