FIRST ON THE DAILY SIGNAL: The National Archives and Records Administration says it has fired the security officer responsible for telling students that they could not wear pro-life apparel in the museum.
On Jan. 20, 2023, the day the national March for Life took place in Washington, D.C., security officers at the National Archives ordered multiple visitors to “remove their hats and cover their attire displaying pro-life messages,” according to a letter from acting Archivist Debra Steidel Wall obtained by The Daily Signal.
“This action was contrary to NARA policy,” she said. “The irony that this happened just steps away from the permanent display of the original Bill of Rights is not lost on me or any of the employees who proudly welcome more than one million annual visitors to the Museum.”
Wall was responding to a bicameral letter led by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, demanding answers about the situation. She informed the lawmakers that the security officers involved in the incident are private contractors on a contract with the National Archives.
“Our vendor conducted its own investigation of the incident and determined a supervisor that it employed, who was working that day, provided instructions to other security officers who work for the same vendor that were contrary to our policy,” she explained. “The vendor has removed this supervisor from NARA’s contract, and that individual is no longer working in any NARA facility.”
Cruz told The Daily Signal on Thursday that he is glad “the National Archives acknowledged the seriousness of their mistake and took the necessary steps to prevent this kind of incident from happening again.”
“The First Amendment rights of pro-life visitors should never have been infringed to begin with,” he said. “These rights, like the documents housed at the National Archives, are foundational, and must be protected for everyone.”
Wall emphasized that there is no policy at the National Archives that prohibits wearing pro-life garments. She also said that no such policy was put in place expressly on the day of the March for Life, and that the contract security officers who asked the pro-life visitors to cover up their clothing “did so in violation of explicit and long-standing NARA policy that allows museum visitors to wear clothing that expresses their political and religious viewpoints.”
“NARA’s policy explicitly allows visitors to the museum to wear clothing that expresses their political and religious viewpoints,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, for a short period of time, on the morning of January 20, 2023, a security officer provided instructions to other security officers that were contrary to that policy. This was subsequently corrected by the security officer that same morning.”
The National Archives publicly apologized for the incident on Feb. 10 after the American Center for Law and Justice filed a lawsuit on behalf of the four individuals who visited the museum wearing pro-life clothing.
The American Center for Law and Justice similarly filed a lawsuit over a separate incident that took place at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, for which the Smithsonian has also apologized.
“All of our clients were told by National Archives employees that they had to take off their religious, pro-life apparel or leave the museum,” Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, wrote at the time his organization sued the National Archives. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
He continued: “When one of our clients questioned the order, a National Archives security officer said that the apparel would ‘incite others’ and that she was ‘disturbing peace.’ Yet another one of our clients was told that her T-shirt was ‘offensive’ and had to be covered up or removed. Her shirt read simply, ‘MARCH 4 LIFE 2014: Saint Cecilia’s Youth Group, Glen Carbon, IL.’”
“Perhaps most disturbing of all were the National Archives security officers who instructed a whole group of Catholic students and chaperones to remove or cover up ALL their religious and pro-life clothing while standing in the same room as the Constitution of the United States,” Sekulow added.
The security officer made some students take their pro-life hats off, including one hat that read, “Life always wins,” and, “Pro-life,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit continues:
Plaintiff witnessed another guard participate in these instructions to her classmates and at no time did any of the other guards in the Rotunda intercede and provide contrary instruction. Plaintiff, astonished by [the security officer’s] instructions – given her close proximity to the very documents that prohibit the government’s interference with her First Amendment right to free speech and expression and her free exercise of religion – nonetheless zipped up her jacket and removed her button for fear that she would be thrown out of the National Archives if she did not comply. Plaintiff immediately believed her constitutional rights were being violated by the very government officials tasked with protecting them.
Yet at the same time, according to the lawsuit, the pro-life students saw at least two other National Archives visitors “freely walking around” wearing apparel with messages such as “My Body, My Choice.”
“Treating religious pro-life speech differently than opposing speech is blatantly unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination,” Sekulow wrote.
The American Center for Law and Justice lawsuit alleges violations of the First Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It also asks the court to declare the National Archives security officer’s actions both unlawful and unconstitutional
“What occurred is not only an injustice, it is intolerable, and we aren’t going to let them get away with it,” said Sekulow. “We intend to find out what’s behind this targeted discrimination.”
Mary Margaret Olohan is a senior reporter for The Daily Signal. She previously reported for The Daily Caller and The Daily Wire, where she covered national politics as well as social and cultural issues.
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