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HomeUSAAbortion opponents settle lawsuit against D.C. museum over 'pro-life' hat ban

Abortion opponents settle lawsuit against D.C. museum over ‘pro-life’ hat ban

Patrons enter the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum for the public reopening of the museum’s west end galleries on the National Mall in Washington, U.S. October 14, 2022.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., agreed to settle a lawsuit by a group of students, parents, and chaperones from a Catholic school in South Carolina who were told by security guards to remove hats bearing an anti-abortion message during a visit there last year, a court filing Monday revealed.

The federally funded museum agreed to pay the more than a dozen plaintiffs a total of $50,000 to settle the suit, according to the filing in U.S. District Court in Washington. The payment includes attorneys’ fees.

The settlement also calls for the museum’s director to give the plaintiffs a tour of the facility, which is the largest of the Smithsonian Institution’s museums, and for the director to apologize to them for the guards’ actions on Jan. 20, 2023, the filing says.

And the Smithsonian agreed to notify security personnel at all of its museums and the National Zoo about its policy allowing hats and other articles of clothing bearing messages, “including religious and political speech.”

The settlement comes four months after the National Archives Museum in Washington agreed to pay $10,000 to a smaller group of plaintiffs and to settle a similar lawsuit.

The plaintiffs in that case were told by National Archives guards to either cover clothing bearing “pro-life” messages or leave that federally operated institution, also on Jan. 20, 2023.

Patrons visit the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum for the public reopening of the museum’s west end galleries on the National Mall in Washington, U.S. October 14, 2022. 

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The incidents at both museums, which are located along the Mall in Washington, came on the same day as the anti-abortion March for Life in the U.S. capital, in which the plaintiffs in each case had participated

The dozen or so plaintiffs from Our Lady of Rosary Church and School in Greenville, South Carolina, were wearing blue hats with the inscription “Rosary Pro-Life” when they visited the Air and Space Museum.

Guards there at different locations in the museum told members of the group to remove their hats, according to their lawsuit.

One guard allegedly told several plaintiffs, “Y’all are about to make my day,” adding, “You’ve been told multiple times to take your hats off, and you have not taken them off. You need to take them off or leave.”

That guard allegedly also said that the First Amendment “does not apply here.”

In fact, that museum and the National Archives both do not bar patrons because of messages on their clothing because of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech.

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Both museums issued apologies for the behavior of their security guards toward the plaintiffs after the lawsuits were filed in February last year.

A spokesman for the American Center for Law & Justice, the conservative Christian organization that represented the plaintiffs in both lawsuits, had no immediate comment on the latest settlement.

A spokeswoman to the National Air & Space Museum, when asked for comment, referred a reporter to the court filing detailing the settlement.

The Department of Justice, which defended the museum in the suit, declined to comment.

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