National Archives apologizes after staff required visitors to conceal pro-life attire

The National Archives of the United States in Washington, D.C.
The National Archives of the United States in Washington, D.C. | Public Domain

The National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C., has apologized and agreed to provide a personal tour to a pair of visitors who sued the federal records agency last week after being told to cover up their pro-life attire when visiting on the morning of the March for Life

The plaintiffs alleged they visited the museum on Jan. 20 with their daughters and over 30 members of their Catholic school class. A Feb. 8 lawsuit claims security officers "chilled their religious speech" by "requiring plaintiffs to remove or cover their attire because of their pro-life messages." They wore hats, buttons and other attire with various messages that included "Life is a Human Right" and "Life Always Wins." 

According to court papers filed Tuesday, the museum promised the plaintiffs a personal tour and "a personal apology on that tour regarding the events." 

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In a statement last Friday, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) apologized for the incident, citing its status as "the home to the original Constitution and Bill of Rights," which enshrine First Amendment rights. 

"NARA policy expressly allows all visitors to wear t-shirts, hats, buttons, etc. that display protest language, including religious and political speech," the NARA statement reads. "We are actively investigating to determine what happened."

"Early indications are that our security officers quickly corrected their actions and, from that point forward, all visitors were permitted to enter our facility without needing to remove or cover their attire. We have reminded all of our security officers at our facilities across the country of the rights of visitors in this regard." 

The National Archives and Records Administration did not immediately respond to The Christian Post's request for comment. 

The plaintiffs are represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, which is advocating for a total of four clients who were a part of three separate groups that visited the National Archives three different times on Jan. 20.

"When one of our clients questioned the order, a National Archives security officer said that the apparel would 'incite others' and that she was 'disturbing peace,'" ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow explained in a statement.

"Yet another one of our clients was told that her T-shirt was 'offensive' and had to be covered up or removed. Her shirt read simply, 'MARCH 4 LIFE 2014: Saint Cecilia's Youth Group, Glen Carbon, IL.' 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."

Sekulow contends that the "consent order does not signal the end of the case."

"In the weeks ahead, the ACLJ will be demanding answers on how and why such a clear violation of our clients' rights occurred and who all was involved in the decision to target pro-life visitors," Sekulow stressed. 

The ACLJ helped multiple plaintiffs file a similar lawsuit against the Smithsonian Institution after National Air and Space Museum security guards allegedly asked them to leave for wearing beanies with pro-life messages during March for Life weekend. 

As CP reported, ACLJ delivered a demand letter to the museum earlier this month on behalf of several students from Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville, South Carolina, and their parents.

The Christian legal nonprofit requested that the Smithsonian preserve information relevant to the incident in anticipation of possible litigation. 

In a statement, Sekulow said students were wearing blue beanies that read "Rosary PRO-LIFE" to identify who was in their group while visiting the museum on Jan. 20. 

"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. 

"The employee who ultimately forced the students to leave the museum was rubbing his hands together in glee as they exited the building. We here at the ACLJ are absolutely appalled at this blatant discrimination and won't let this behavior stand."

Sekulow called the incident a "clear-cut First Amendment violation."

"The federal government simply cannot ban speech with which it or its employees disagree," he stated. 

A spokesperson for the museum told CP that the security officer who told the students that they were not allowed to wear their pro-life hats inside made a mistake. 

"Asking visitors to remove hats and clothing is not in keeping with our policy or protocols. We provided immediate retraining to prevent a re-occurrence of this kind of error," the spokesperson stated. 

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follower her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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