Christian students are suing the Smithsonian National Air Space Museum (NASM) for allegedly violating their First and Fifth Amendment rights by kicking them out for wearing pro-life hats following the 50th annual March for Life.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed the lawsuit on Monday in the federal district court for the District of Columbia on behalf of nine students and three parents it says were “unlawfully targeted for their religious pro-life views” on January 20, 2023.
According to the complaint, students, parents, and chaperones from Our Lady of the Rosary Church and School in South Carolina went to the museum following the March for Life. The group members were wearing hats that said, “Rosary Pro-Life.”
“Following their participation in the March for Life event, Plaintiffs visited the NASM whereby all Plaintiffs were subjected to a pattern of ongoing misconduct by at least five different staff, personnel, employees and/or security guards of NASM including Defendants Jane Does and John Does, which included targeting, harassment, discrimination and, ultimately, eviction from NASM simply because they wore blue hats with the inscription, ‘Rosary Pro-Life,’” the complaint states.
Museum staff allegedly mocked the students, called them expletives, and told them their hats were “political statements” and that they were “not promoting equality.” Staff also allegedly told them that the museum is a “neutral zone” and that the First Amendment “does not apply here.” The complaint notes that several other museum patrons were wearing hats and masks, some of which had rainbow “Pride” graphics
“What the Smithsonian did is beyond reprehensible. These were students simply wearing a hat that passively expressed their support for life on the basis of their Christian faith,” said Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ’s executive director. “The way these students, many of whom were minors, were treated by their federal government – the Smithsonian and its employees – should shock everyone to the core. It’s not only abhorrent; it’s blatantly unconstitutional. And that’s why we’re fighting back.”
The lawsuit further points out that the NASM is a government agency that receives roughly 70 percent of its funding from federal appropriations to support its operations.
“As a federal government entity, NASM and its officers, agents and employees are mandated to comply with the First and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act),” the complaint states.
The ACLJ is asking the court to enjoin defendants from “unlawfully targeting Plaintiff, for disparate treatment and particular scrutiny based on content and viewpoint or association.” The lawsuit also requests that museum employees receive “appropriate training” to make sure their “conduct complies with federal law and the United States Constitution.” Additionally, even though ACLJ generally represents clients for free, if the students prevail on the RFRA claim, the court could order the Smithsonian to pay what would have been the students’ attorneys fees if ACLJ had charged them.
The case is Kristi L. v. National Air and Space Museum, No. 1:23-cv-335 in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.