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Smithsonian Apologizes for Kicking Out Catholic Students Wearing Hats with Pro-Life Message

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A Smithsonian museum has apologized to a group of Catholic students and their chaperones for reportedly asking the group to leave the National Air and Space Museum because they were wearing blue caps with a pro-life message embroidered on them. 

The apology comes after the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed a federal lawsuit against the museum last week on behalf of nine students and three parents.  

According to the 20-page complaint, the students from Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville, South Carolina, were in Washington, D.C. to participate in the March for Life on Jan. 20.  After the annual march, the group of students decided to visit the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. 

"Once in the {federal} museum, they were accosted several times and told they would be forced to leave unless they removed their pro-life hats. 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," according to the ACLJ. 

"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," ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow said in a statement posted by the nonprofit law firm. 
"It is clear that these Christian students were kicked out of the museum solely because of their pro-life and religious views. And the First Amendment DOES apply in a federal institution such as the Smithsonian," Sekulow continued. 

"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. 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," he said. 

As a federal entity, The Smithsonian Institution receives an endowment from the government that amounts to more than $1 billion every year to operate its 21 museums, education, and research centers. 

"It states on its website that they 'welcome all people to explore' its museums, apparently 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."

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In a statement to The Christian Post, a museum spokesperson apologized on behalf of the Smithsonian. 

"A security officer mistakenly told young visitors that their pro-life hats were not permitted in the museum," the spokesperson said. "Asking visitors to remove hats and clothing is not in keeping with our policy or protocols. We provided immediate retraining to prevent a re-occurrence of this kind of error." 

A mother of one of the students tweeted a photo of the cap in question the day of the incident, writing: "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!"

"A government institution cannot censor an individual's speech, much less speech from the inherently Christian pro-life position," Sekulow said. "The law is clear: 'The government may not suppress or exclude the speech of private parties for the sole reason that the speech is religious,' the Supreme Court said in its 2022 ruling Shurtleff v. City of Boston."

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About The Author

Steve Warren is a senior multimedia producer for CBN News. Warren has worked in the news departments of television stations and cable networks across the country. In addition, he also worked as a producer-director in television production and on-air promotion. A Civil War historian, he authored the book The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. It was the companion book to the television documentary titled Last Raid at Cabin Creek currently streaming on Amazon Prime. He holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in Communication from the University of