WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) — The Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution says that kicking students out of a museum for expressing their pro-life beliefs was an unintentional “aberration.”
Smithsonian chief Lonnie G. Bunch III responded on February 21 to House Republicans’ demand for an explanation regarding the January 20 ousting of the students from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
“This was an aberration and not reflective of Smithsonian values and practice of welcoming all visitors regardless of viewpoint,” said Bunch.
“Visitors are not to be denied access based on messages on their clothing, and an error was made in this regard on January 20, 2023,” he continued.
“The instruction to visitors to remove their pro-life hats was a mistake – a misinterpretation of what was permissible. It was not a willful violation.”
After the 2023 March for Life, a group of students from Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville, South Carolina were ejected from the aviation museum for wearing hats emblazoned with the words ‘Rosary PRO-LIFE.’ The students stated afterwards that the two security guards who told them to leave had said that the museum was a “neutral zone” and that they would have to remove their hats. The students also stated that the guards had addressed them with foul epithets before ultimately removing them from the premises.
Following the incident, House Republicans Chip Roy, R-Texas, Josh Brecheen, R-Okla., along with more than two dozen other Republicans, including Reps. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, and Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., sent an email to the museum on February 6 demanding answers regarding their treatment of the pro-lifers.
The Republicans asked whether the museum had been aware of the actions of the two security guards, if they had investigated the report, if they indeed had a policy declaring the museum a “neutral zone,” what disciplinary action the Smithsonian would be pursuing, and how they would ensure that such incidents never occurred again.
Bunch replied that the museum was indeed not a neutral zone, but a place where all beliefs were respected and welcomed. He said that following the incident, the Smithsonian had “reinforced the Smithsonian policy for visitors with security staff at the Air and Space Museum,” and that starting on January 23 they had also instigated a “refresher” course for security employees at all the Smithsonian museums, in order to ensure that all security was aware of what was “applicable” under Smithsonian policy.
Bunch added that, in future, the Smithsonian would be incorporating “a standard practice to review our policies before any scheduled demonstration and/or protest and take appropriate steps to ensure First Amendment rights are protected and respected at the Institution.”
“We welcome all visitors without regard to their beliefs. Visitors may wear hats and other types of clothing with messages so long as their conduct is otherwise in compliance with Smithsonian policy,” he said.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a pro-life legal organization, reached out after the incident to the mother who exposed the story on Twitter, offering legal assistance.
“There’s going to be litigation in this one,” ACLJ said in a broadcast on YouTube. “We’re preparing that, and we are proud to be doing it. We are standing up for life whether it is at the Supreme Court of the United States or now, at a district court in Washinton D.C.”