The Smithsonian may not have been the only federal institution to ban pro-life apparel during last month’s March for Life in Washington.
Four march participants from Illinois, Michigan and Virginia have sued the National Archives and Records Administration, alleging that they were told by security guards during separate Jan. 20 visits to remove or cover up their pro-life buttons, beanies, T-shirts and sweatshirts.
The federal lawsuit was filed Wednesday, two days after a dozen Catholic students and chaperones from Greenville, South Carolina, sued the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum for ordering them to take off their pro-life beanies or leave.
Both lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the American Center for Law and Justice, which accused the federal institutions of violating the First and Fifth Amendments and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow said he believes the incidents are connected, saying that “multiple instances of targeted discrimination in at least two federal buildings on the same day against pro-life advocates is no coincidence.”
“What occurred is not only an injustice, it is intolerable, and we aren’t going to let them get away with it,” said Mr. Sekulow in a Thursday statement. “We intend to find out what’s behind this targeted discrimination.”
The Smithsonian issued an apology last week, but the archives declined Thursday a request for comment, telling The Washington Times that “The National Archives does not comment on matters in litigation.”
We are representing four pro-life supporters who were harassed by National Archives workers. We will not allow such injustice to continue. Follow along for more details.https://t.co/GDPgGa12eo
— ACLJ (@ACLJ) February 9, 2023
The latest complaint alleges that National Archives security guards confronted separate groups of visitors from different states wearing pro-life swag in at least three instances.
In the first episode, the guards told a group of 35 Catholic school students and parents from Michigan to remove their pro-life buttons, zip up their jackets to hide their shirts, and take off hats with messages such as “LIFE always WINS” and “ProLife.”
In the group were two of the plaintiffs, Tamara R. and her teenage daughter, L.R. The girl wore a T-shirt that said “Life is a HUMAN RIGHT,” and a button on the strap of her bag that said “Pro-Love is the New Pro-Life.”
One guard “specifically instructed Plaintiff L.R. that she could not be wearing anything prolife and that she must cover her shirt and not unzip it until she had left the National Archives.” She did so for fear that she would be thrown out if she refused.
While she was there, the girl sent a message to a friend on Snapchat saying that “he told me to take off my pro-life pin as I was standing next to the constitution that literally says Freedom of Speech on it.”
In the second incident, security guards confronted a group of about eight students from Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Virginia, including plaintiff Wendilee Walpole Lassiter.
As she passed through a metal detector, the guards noticed her black sweatshirt with the message “I Am the Post-Roe Generation: Law Students for Life,” and told her, “You have to take your shirt off. Your shirt will incite others” and “cause a disturbance,” the lawsuit said.
Ms. Lassiter said she was “shocked” and asked, “I can’t come in here unless I take my sweatshirt off?” She was told, “No, you can’t.” She and her classmates complied with the order.
At the same time, she said she saw at least two other visitors permitted to wear clothes with expressive messages to the effect of “My Body, My Choice” and “Pro-Choice,” according to the complaint.
In the third encounter, Terrie Kallal and her unnamed granddaughter were told at the security entrance that they must cover up their “offensive” shirts, which had the messages “March 4 Life 2014: Saint Cecilia’s Youth Group, Glen Carbon, IL,” and “pro-life generation.”
Ms. Kallal believed it was “wrongful order,” but complied so that her granddaughter could see the founding documents. While they were there, they saw security tell a group of 30-40 students to remove or cover their religious pro-life clothing.
“[She] heard some of the students respond to the order by stating: ‘We don’t have any other clothing. Just our shirts.’ Many of the students were young women who were unable to comply with the order owing to modesty concerns,” the lawsuit said.
She said some of the students responded that they “would rather leave than give up their right to free speech,” and that the entire group exited the building.
Mr. Sekulow noted that the National Archives is home to the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and Bill of Rights.
“What is so egregious about this particular targeting is that it was done by the very federal institution that is home to our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and the Bill of Rights – the exact documents that call on our government to protect the freedoms of speech and religion, not trample on them,” said Mr. Sekulow said.
The 50th annual March for Life was held Jan. 20, the first march held since the Supreme Court’s ruling last June 24 in Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade and sent decisionmaking on abortion back to the states.
President Biden responded by vowing to do “everything in his power to defend reproductive rights and protect access to safe and legal abortion,” according to a July 8 White House statement.