Chris Lange, FISM News
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has filed two lawsuits on behalf of individuals who alleged that they were told to leave the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the National Archives Museum last month over pro-life slogans on their attire.
Lawyers said that the defendants, both of which are funded by the federal government, violated the plaintiffs’ First and Fifth Amendment protections and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
A group of students and chaperones from Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville, South Carolina, who participated in the National March for Life in Washington D.C. on January 20 said that, following the event, they decided to visit the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. During the visit, the Plaintiffs said they were “accosted several times” by museum personnel who told them to remove their hats featuring a “Rosary PRO-LIFE” logo or exit the premises, according to one complaint.
A similar suit was filed on behalf of individuals who were allegedly told to remove or conceal slogans on their attire, including “Life is a human right” and “Pro-love is the new pro-life,” when they attempted to visit the National Archives Museum on the same day.
“What is so egregious about this particular targeting is that it was done by the very federal institution that is home to our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and the Bill of Rights — the exact documents that call on our government to protect the freedoms of speech and religion, not trample on them,” the ACLJ said in a press release.
Both lawsuits seek damages and legal fees, acknowledgments that the plaintiffs’ civil rights were infringed upon, and injunctions “enjoining Defendants, and all those in active concert with them, from unlawfully targeting Plaintiffs, for disparate treatment and particular scrutiny based on content and viewpoint or association.”
PLAINTIFFS TOLD TO REMOVE HATS WHILE OBSERVING BILL OF RIGHTS EXHIBIT
In its complaint against the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the ACLJ said that the Plaintiffs were approached by a museum security guard and told to remove their hats while they observed an exhibit featuring the Bill of Rights.
“Perhaps most disturbing of all were the National Archives security officers who instructed a whole group of Catholic students and chaperones to remove or cover up ALL their religious and pro-life clothing while standing in the same room as the Constitution of the United States,” the complaint stated, also noting that several nearby staff members of the museum observed the exchange at issue but did nothing to intervene.
The lawyers asserted that “None of the Plaintiffs’ expressive conduct involved verbal or disruptive speech, protest, or signs. Instead, the expressive conduct by all Plaintiffs consisted only of the peaceful wearing of religious pro-life messages.” They argued that other visitors at the museum were spotted wearing pro-abortion apparel featuring slogans like “my body, my choice” but were not told to remove the items.
THE FIRST AMENDMENT ‘DOES NOT APPLY HERE’
In a separate lawsuit filed against the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM), the plaintiffs’ lawyers said that a group of 15 students and their parents who were wearing pro-life hats were told by security officials that they must remove the hats to enter the premises.
The group members complied with the order, believing that it had to do with the screening process. Once inside the premises, they witnessed individuals wearing articles of clothing with various logos and slogans, including a man who was wearing a “Pride” mask, so they put their hats back on. They were then approached by a security guard who also told them to remove the hats.
ACLJ member Jordan Sekulow noted in a previous statement that the guard was “gleefully rubbing his hands together, stating they had made his day.”
When the group asked why other visitors in the museum were allowed to wear hats and pride masks, they were told that the pro-life messages represented “political statements,” and were “not promoting equality,” according to the suit.
The same museum employee then allegedly “proceeded to inform Plaintiffs that they must remove their hats because the museum was a ‘neutral zone,’ and that the First Amendment ‘does not apply here,'” according to the court filing.
FISM reported that NASM spokeswoman Alison Wood previously stated that “Asking visitors to remove hats and clothing is not in keeping with our policies or protocols.” Wood told Fox News that, upon learning about the incident, NASM “provided immediate training to prevent a re-occurrence of this kind of incident.”
LAWMAKERS ‘DEEPLY CONCERNED’ OVER ALLEGED DISCRIMINATION, CALL FOR ANSWERS
Forty Republican members of the House and Senate sent a letter to Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch last week requesting additional information about the alleged incident.
“As a federal entity and the recipient of more than $1 billion in federal funds every year, there should be no debate as to whether the First Amendment applies to the Smithsonian,” the letter stated. “We are deeply concerned about this unjust expulsion of young Americans from museums — subsidized with taxpayer dollars — for wearing apparel that your staff disagreed with.”