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Smithsonian in Legal Trouble Over Pro-Life Student Incident

After employees of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum kicked out a dozen Catholic high school students for wearing hats inscribed with pro-life messages after the Pro Life March, the institution has been put on notice to prepare for further action by both the U.S. Congress and a law firm that is now representing six of the students.

According to Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), they have sent a legal letter to the Smithsonian advising them of “potential/anticipated litigation” concerning the incident and demanding that Smithsonian personnel “preserve all materials that may be in any way relevant to said incident.”

The incident, which occurred after the Pro-Life March on January 20, involved a group of 12 Catholic school students and their chaperones from Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville, South Carolina. The group was wearing blue pro-life hats inscribed with the words, “Rosary Pro-Life.” They were viewing an exhibit when they were approached by two women believed to security guards who said, “All people wearing a pro-life hat, take it off,” a student named Patrick Murphy told Fox News’ Hannity.

When asked why, the students were told the pro-life hats were “not promoting equality.” A student pointed out another visitor to the museum who was wearing a pride hat and asked why they weren’t told to remove their hat. Instead they were told that the pro-life hats were not permitted to be worn inside the building. When the students refused to remove them, they left the museum, but not without having to endure disgraceful behavior from the Smithsonian 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,” Sekulow writes. “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.”

This is especially true because the Smithsonian Institution is a federal entity that receives upwards of $1 billion from the government every year and clearly states on its website that they welcome all people to explore its museums.

“…[A]pparently just not kids with pro-life views,” Sekulow said. “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. A government institution cannot censor an individual’s speech, much less speech from the inherently Christian pro-life position.”

The ACLJ is now representing six of the students.

But that’s not the end of the backlash. Fox News is reporting on a group of congressional Republicans who are demanding answers. Representatives Chip Roy (R-TX) and Josh Brecheen (R-OK) wrote a letter signed by over two dozen Republicans, and Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) are leading a similar charge in the Senate.

"Does the Smithsonian have any policy prohibiting pro-life sentiments from being expressed in its buildings or any policy deeming it a 'neutral zone," the letter asks. "What efforts have you taken to ensure that the First Amendment rights of all Americans are respected at the Air and Space Museum and an incident like this never occurs again under your leadership?"

The museum responded quickly. "Asking visitors to remove hats and clothing is not in keeping with our policy or protocols. We provided immediate training to prevent a re-occurrence of this kind of incident, and have determined steps to ensure this does not happen again," said Alison Wood, the museum's deputy director of communications.

The U.S. Congress is demanding answers to a series of questions, including if the museum has conducted an internal investigation of the matter, a list of the names of the employees involved, and if any disciplinary action was taken. These responses are to be submitted no later than February 16.

"This wouldn't happen to students wearing 'Defund the Police' or 'Free Palestine' shirts," tweeted former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. "Bias against conservatives runs deep in our culture & gov. Smithsonian runs on our $$, so if it’s going to silence voices then Congress needs to silence its funding."

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