The staff of the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum allegedly ridiculed, swore at, and then kicked out an entire group of Catholic pro-life students and their chaperones for wearing hats that say “Rosary PRO-LIFE,” reports the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which now represents the mother of two of the students.
“It’s absolutely outrageous, it’s unconstitutional discrimination, and the ACLJ is fighting back,” wrote Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the organization that works to defend constitutional liberties.
This is outrageous. Kids visiting the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum after attending the March for Life were KICKED OUT for wearing hats with a pro-life message.
We’re taking action to protect these kids from attacks like this. Join us. https://t.co/gZYkkrfLXh
— ACLJ (@ACLJ) January 28, 2023
Sekulow explained that, on January 20, students from a Catholic school in Greenville, South Carolina, traveled to Washington, DC, to attend the annual March for Life on the National Mall, and visited the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum afterward.
“Once in the museum, they were accosted several times and told they would be forced to leave unless they removed their pro-life hats,” he detailed the events. “The group all wore the same blue hat that simply said, ‘Rosary PRO-LIFE.’ Other individuals in the museum were wearing hats of all kinds without issue.”
Sekulow described the alleged behavior of the museum staff:
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. We here at the ACLJ are absolutely appalled at this blatant discrimination and won’t let this behavior stand.
“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,” the mother of two of the students tweeted about the alleged incident. “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!”
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! pic.twitter.com/5RSJp2ccGi
— Move to South Carolina (@KihneSheila) January 20, 2023
Sekulow explained that, as a federal entity, the Smithsonian Institution receives more than $1 billion annually from American taxpayers.
The Smithsonian itself describes on its website its founding and its mission:
The Smithsonian Institution was established by an act of Congress in 1846 as an independent federal trust instrumentality, a unique public-private partnership that has proven its value as a cultural and scientific resource for more than 170 years. The federal commitment provides the foundation for all we do, and is especially helpful in attracting private support. We leverage our federal funding to enrich the lives of the American people and advance our mission for “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”
“This was a clear-cut First Amendment violation, not only of their freedom of speech but of religion as well,” Sekulow wrote. “The federal government simply cannot ban speech with which it or its employees disagree.”
Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in May in Shurtleff v. City of Boston, he added the First Amendment protects the right to free speech without government interference.
“The government may not suppress or exclude the speech of private parties for the sole reason that the speech is religious,” ACLJ said in a memorandum on the issue of “Government Censoring Christian Speech.”
The National Air and Space Museum responded to the mother’s tweet (above), asking for her contact information and stating, “The Museum takes complaints like this seriously.”
“What you have described is not in keeping with our policy and we are following up with our security on this situation,” the tweet stated.
Could you please DM us with any additional details, including the approximate time this took place, and contact information so that our team can follow up with you directly? (2/2)
— National Air and Space Museum (@airandspace) January 21, 2023
Another Twitter user claimed to have been told by a male museum employee to remove his pro-life hat because it “did not promote equality.”
This happened to me as well yesterday right around 5:15pm. I was trying to find one of our students and a young man who works there on the bottom floor by the bathrooms stopped me and told me to take off my pro life hat. He said my hat did not promote equality.
— Christopher Morris (@Christo44770911) January 22, 2023
The Star News Network reached out for comment about the incident and status of the staff involved to Alison Wood at the Office of Communications for the Smithsonian.
Wood replied the “security officer” who allegedly told the pro-life students to leave the museum “mistakenly” told them their hats were not allowed. She added “immediate retraining” took place:
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. 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.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. Additional information about our policies for visitors is available here: https://www.si.edu/
“No one, especially kids, should have to fear being kicked out of a national museum by government officials simply for wearing a Christian pro-life hat,” he asserted.
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Susan Berry, PhD is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum” by Pedro Szekely. CC BY-SA 2.0.