Pro-life groups sue DC over arrests outside Planned Parenthood, usurping free speech

Police arrest Students for Life members outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 1, 2020.
Police arrest Students for Life members outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 1, 2020. | Twitter/Students for Life

Two pro-life groups have filed a lawsuit against Washington, D.C., over the arrest of two pro-life advocates for writing “Black Preborn Lives Matter” with a piece of chalk outside a Planned Parenthood abortion facility.

The lawsuit was filed by Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of The Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life of America.

“The city shouldn’t be able to silence and punish us for expressing ideas that it doesn’t agree with,” said Frederick Douglass Foundation Virginia Chapter President J.R. Gurley in a statement on Wednesday.

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“Government officials can’t discriminate against peaceful displays on the basis of our beliefs about abortion when they have allowed other groups the same avenues to express their beliefs. If the mayor allows other messages to be painted and chalked, we should be able to express our views in the same manner without fear of unjust government punishment.”

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, told LifeSite News that city officials "were not content to stop a message in temporary paint."

“Two students were arrested trying to express in chalk what they were not allowed to say in paint," she said. "That kind of viewpoint discrimination cannot be allowed to continue unchallenged.”

Watch the video of the arrests here

Students for Life had obtained a permit to express their views using tempera paint after the city had allowed other groups to do the same in voicing their messages to defund the police. 

An online petition by Students for Life further explained: 

"After applying and receiving our permit and after being told by the Metropolitan police that the Mayor has 'opened a Pandora’s box' by painting public streets, Students for Life arrived at the D.C. Planned Parenthood on Saturday, August 1st to six police cars threatening to arrest our team and student leaders if we painted 'BLACK PREBORN LIVES MATTER,' even using the temporary paint we bought that the Police Department specifically requested.

"When we asked if we could at least use sidewalk chalk to chalk our anti-violence message on the streets, the police threatened to arrest us.

"With these threats D.C. Mayor Muriel Bower has made her motives clear as she apparently only thinks that SOME Black Lives Matter and that only SOME slogans are allowed to be painted on streets. 

"SHE IS WRONG. And this is viewpoint discrimination. This is unconstitutional." 

Elissa Graves, ADF legal counsel, agrees, adding: “The government can’t discriminate against certain viewpoints by allowing some voices to be heard while silencing others. Because of the city’s actions, Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life of America weren’t able to participate in the public square as other groups have. The First Amendment prohibits the government from picking and choosing whose speech to allow.”

ADF said in a separate statement about the case that, "every individual and organization should be able to peacefully express their beliefs, but the District is picking winners and silencing those who hold views it doesn’t like. That's unconstitutional."

"The government can’t pick winners and losers when it comes to free speech. It has a duty to uphold that freedom for all of its citizens — whether or not it agrees with them."

The pro-life groups at the center of the lawsuit have been raising awareness about the plight of black preborn babies on billboards nationwide. After they were prohibited from sharing their message in the nation's capital in August, the groups painted a Baltimore street with the same pro-life message in September.

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