Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News
The American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) announced late last week that it had alerted the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum that litigation was forthcoming after a group of students and parents accused museum staff of having removed 12 students for wearing pro-life beanies.
“After attending the March for Life, students visiting the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum were KICKED OUT for wearing hats with a pro-life message,” a tweet from ACLJ reads. “We’re taking action to protect pro-life students from targeted attacks like this.”
After attending the March for Life, students visiting the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum were KICKED OUT for wearing hats with a pro-life message.We’re taking action to protect pro-life students from targeted attacks like this. Join us. https://t.co/mg5Dipj54Y
— ACLJ (@ACLJ) February 5, 2023
According to Jordan Sekulow of the ACLJ, the students were treated discourteously by at least one member of staff, who allegedly told the students to either remove their hats or face removal.
“The museum staff mocked the students, called them expletives, and made comments that the museum was a ‘neutral zone’ where they could not express such statements,” Sekulow wrote in a press release. “The employee who ultimately forced the students to leave the museum was rubbing his hands together in glee as they exited the building.”
A Smithsonian official did not confirm all of the specifics but it appears the museum acknowledged that something outside of the bounds of propriety occurred.
“Asking visitors to remove hats and clothing is not in keeping with our policies or protocols,” Alison Wood, the museum’s deputy director of communications, told Fox News. “We provided immediate training to prevent a re-occurrence of this kind of incident.”
As of this writing, the Smithsonian had not confirmed having received the ACLJ’s letter of notice.
“[ACLJ] represents all individuals listed below in regard to the incident occurring on January 20, whereby Smithsonian staff, personnel, and/or agents mocked and then removed students and chaperones from the museum for wearing a pro-life message inscribed on head coverings or beanies,” the letter, which is dated Feb. 1, reads.
According to a tweet from the mother of one of the students, whose Twitter handle was shared by ACLJ, the young people, all of whom attend a parochial school in South Carolina and were visiting Washington, D.C., refused to take off their hats as the beanies’ distinctive bright-blue color was meant to serve primarily to help the students find each other in a crowd.
But, the hats were emblazoned with the phrase “Rosary PRO-LIFE,” which the pending plaintiffs allege was deemed too politically charged for the museum.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) says the beanies were well within the bounds of what is acceptable for any American, much less a museum patron.
“The First Amendment protects liberty for all Americans, including those who are #ProLife,” Kennedy tweeted. “What’s going on at the Smithsonian?”
According to the Smithsonian’s visitor guidelines page, there are some prohibitions in place on what people can say, do, and display, but it is unclear where the students would have run afoul of the policy.
Smithsonian visitors are prohibited from carrying signs, banners, or placards; but, a hat would not seem to fall under this rule. There are also rules against loud and abusive language as well as disorderly conduct, which would be among the more likely defenses for the Smithsonian were a suit eventually filed.
“The Smithsonian Institution, as a federal entity, receives upwards of $1 billion from the government every year,” Sekulow wrote. “It states on its website that they ‘welcome all people to explore’ its museums, apparently just not kids with pro-life views. This was a clear-cut First Amendment violation, not only of their freedom of speech but of religion as well. The federal government simply cannot ban speech with which it or its employees disagree.”
The question at hand will likely be if the Smithsonian has the authority to limit people’s clothing choices. More accurately, the issue will be at which point the line is drawn between personal expression and maintaining decorum in a public place.