Home Christian news Pro-life students win settlement against Smithsonian

Pro-life students win settlement against Smithsonian

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By Jordan Sekulow —

Smithsonian Institution

 

Last year, on the 50th annual March for Life event in Washington, D.C., groups of pro-lifers were targeted because of their pro-life apparel while visiting several different government buildings before and after the March for Life.
They were required to cover up their pro-life apparel, or leave the buildings, in violation of their free speech rights as protected by the First Amendment. Not long ago, the ACLJ achieved its first major victory against the National Archives in one of the cases we filed in support of those pro-lifers. Now, we have achieved our second major victory, this time in the case against the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (Smithsonian).

 

As we reported at the time, the ACLJ filed a lawsuit against the Smithsonian on behalf of a group of Christian students and their chaperones who were unlawfully targeted for wearing their religious pro-life hats while visiting the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

As we explained:

[S]tudents from a Catholic school in Greenville, South Carolina, traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in the National March for Life. After the event, they went over to explore the nearby Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Once in the [federal] museum, they were accosted several times and told they would be forced to leave unless they removed their pro-life hats. The group all wore the same blue hat that simply said, “Rosary PRO-LIFE.” Other individuals in the museum were wearing hats of all kinds without issue.

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. The employee who ultimately forced the students to leave the museum was rubbing his hands together in glee as they exited the building.

After we filed our complaint, the Smithsonian agreed to enter into a preliminary injunction, which prohibited it from engaging in similar behavior in the future.

Since then, the ACLJ and the Smithsonian have been engaged in mediation, which we have just concluded – finally having reached an agreement to settle the case.

In documents filed with the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian has agreed to settle with our clients, providing a monetary amount of $50,000, a private tour to be given by the director of the National Air and Space Museum, personal apologies, and the public dissemination of an “after action” report that was conducted by the Smithsonian following the incident that occurred. In addition, the Smithsonian will “further reiterate via a bulk distribution method to all security officers stationed at all Smithsonian museums open to the public and the National Zoological Park, the current Smithsonian policy regarding the wearing of hats or other types of clothing with messages, including religious and political speech.”

This is one of the largest reported settlements ever against the federal government in a First Amendment case. The federal court just entered the consent decree in this case.

We are grateful for this group of clients who alerted us to the violation that occurred and who were willing to take a stand to defend their rights. From the beginning, they wanted to find out what happened and why. Specifically, they wanted to know who gave the order to require them to cover up their pro-life apparel or leave the building – and they wanted to expose the truth to ensure that this never happens again.

We are pleased that our settlement does just that.

If you believe that you have been subject to wrongful discrimination because of your religious pro-life views, contact us at ACLJ.org/help. Your right to be a voice for the voiceless needs to be protected – and we’re here to help preserve that right.

 

Jordan Sekulow is the Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).