Smithsonian museum kicked out Catholic students for wearing pro-life hats, admits wrongdoing
A Christian legal organization told the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., to prepare for litigation after Catholic students and their chaperones were allegedly asked to leave the National Air and Space Museum for wearing pro-life beanies.
The American Center for Law and Justice delivered the legal letter last Wednesday in response to the incident on Jan. 20, the week of the annual March for Life in Washington.
The legal nonprofit demanded that the Smithsonian's personnel preserve all information relevant to the incident, putting them on notice of potential litigation.
The ACLJ represents six students and two parents involved and anticipates representing more.
According to ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow, students from Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville, South Carolina, were all wearing 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 in a statement posted to the ACLJ's website. "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."
In a statement to The Christian Post, a spokesperson for the museum apologized on behalf of the institution.
"A security officer mistakenly told young visitors that their pro-life hats were not permitted in the museum," the spokesperson stated. "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 Smithsonian Institution, a group of 21 museums and education and research centers created by the federal government, receives around $1 billion from the government each year.
"It states on its website that they 'welcome all people to explore' its museums, apparently just not kids with pro-life views," Sekulow stated.
"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 ACLJ contends that government institutions can't censor people's speech.
"The law is clear: 'The government may not suppress or exclude the speech of private parties for the sole reason that the speech is religious,'" Sekulow argues, citing the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Shurtleff v. City of Boston.
The mother of one of the students posted about the event on Twitter the day it happened.
"They were told to remove their hats or leave," the mom tweeted. "Daughter told man they had to wear to find each other in crowd. KICKED OUT for refusing to remove!"
As CP reported, the March for Life was the first to occur since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last June. The decision, handed down in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case, reversed the court's 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follower her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman