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USA. WASHINGTON DC. WASHINGTON. JUNE 2019: Smithsonian National Air and Space MuseumShutterstock

WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) — The American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) has reached a final settlement with the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum on behalf of a group of visitors discriminated against for wearing pro-life messages on their clothing, touting “one of the largest reported settlements ever against the federal government in a First Amendment case.”

On January 20, 2023, shortly after that year’s March for Life in the nation’s capital (the first since the 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade), a group of Catholics from Our Lady of the Rosary school in Greenville, South Carolina, were kicked out of the Smithsonian for wearing hats bearing the words “Rosary PRO-LIFE.” The next month, Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III said the incident “was an aberration and not reflective of Smithsonian values and practice of welcoming all visitors regardless of viewpoint,” promising a “refresher” on museum policy for staff and policy reviews prior to any major political demonstration in the nation’s capital.

However, he also said that the offenders wouldn’t be penalized because they only committed a “misinterpretation of what was permissible” rather than a “willful violation.” Last September, settlement negotiations fell through without reaching an agreement.

Last month, however, ACLJ announced that, after the resumption of mediation, a settlement has been reached, under which the Smithsonian agrees to pay $50,000, give the plaintiffs a private tour hosted by museum director Christopher Browne, make personal apologies, and disseminate a report on the incident as well as policies clarifying the permissibility of religious and political speech on apparel.

“We are grateful for this group of clients who alerted us to the violation that occurred and who were willing to take a stand to defend their rights,” said ACLJ executive director Jordan Sekulow. “From the beginning, they wanted to find out what happened and why. Specifically, they wanted to know who gave the order to require them to cover up their pro-life apparel or leave the building – and they wanted to expose the truth to ensure that this never happens again.”

ACLJ also represented another group of 2023 March for Life participants who experienced a similar incident at the National Archives museum where they were instructed by security officers to take off or conceal the pro-life messages on their apparel if they wanted to remain in the museum. 

The firm quickly secured an apology from the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) and an explanation that the offending security personnel were contractors who had been instructed by a supervisor who had since been fired, eventually followed by a settlement in which NARA agreed to pay $10,000 to the plaintiffs and take steps to prevent future visitors from experiencing the same treatment.