South Carolina Republicans led lawmakers blasting the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum for kicking out a group of Catholic high school students because they wore matching beanies inscribed with the words “pro-life.”
Museum staff accosted a dozen students and chaperones from the Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville, South Carolina, telling them to remove their blue “Rosary PRO-LIFE” beanies or leave, according to the American Center for Law and Justice.
Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican, called the Smithsonian’s conduct an “outrageous violation of free speech,” while former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said that if the federal institution wants to “silence voices, then Congress needs to silence its funding.”
“This wouldn’t happen to students wearing ‘Defund the Police’ or ‘Free Palestine’ shirts,” tweeted Ms. Haley. “Bias against conservatives runs deep in our culture & gov.”
The museum issued an apology Wednesday for the staff’s treatment of the South Carolina students, who visited the museum during a trip last month for the 50th annual March for Life on the National Mall.
“We apologize for the incident that occurred on Friday, Jan. 20 at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum when a security officer mistakenly told young visitors that their pro-life hats were not permitted in the museum,” said museum spokesperson Alison Wood. “Asking visitors to remove hats and clothing is not in keeping with our policy or protocols. We provided immediate retraining that day to prevent a re-occurrence of this kind of error.”
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She said that the “Smithsonian welcomes all visitors without regard to their beliefs. We do not deny access to our museums based on the messages on visitors’ clothing.”
South Carolina students were kicked out of a taxpayer-funded building for expressing their beliefs. Absolutely outrageous violation of free speech. https://t.co/aOdmOWEV7j
— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) February 1, 2023
Legal action may soon follow. The ACLJ posted Thursday a letter to the Smithsonian giving it notice of litigation on behalf of six students and two parents.
ACLJ Executive Director Jay Sekulow said 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,” Mr. Sekulow said in a post on the ACLJ website. “We here at the ACLJ are absolutely appalled at this blatant discrimination and won’t let this behavior stand.”
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One of the parents tweeted on Jan. 20: “My daughter just called from DC a dozen kids from Greenville just got kicked out of the Air & Space Museum for wearing Pro Life hats. They were told to remove their hats or leave. Daughter told man they had to wear to find each other in crowd. KICKED OUT for refusing to remove!”
Sen. Steve Daines, Montana Republican, said the “discrimination is horrendous and these students deserve an explanation.”
“Appalling that a government-backed institution hailed as an educational resource apparently censored these students’ free speech and abused their First Amendment rights,” said Mr. Daines.
Rep. Ronny Jackson, Texas Republican, tweeted: “The fact that pro-life students were cursed at and KICKED OUT of the Air & Space Museum by Smithsonian staff is a DISGRACE. People need to be fired. This should’ve NEVER happened!!”
Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Republican, tweeted that the “First Amendment protects liberty for all Americans, including those who are #ProLife. What’s going on at the Smithsonian?”