More than 40 Congressional Republicans sent a letter to Smithsonian Institute’s Secretary Lonnie Bunch on Tuesday, demanding to know why Smithsonian National Air Space Museum (NASM) staff allegedly kicked out students for wearing pro-life hats.
The lawmakers, led by Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and several others, sent the letter the day after the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed the lawsuit in the federal district court for the District of Columbia on behalf of nine students and three parents it says were “unlawfully targeted for their religious pro-life views” on January 20, 2023.
The students went to the museum after attending the 50th annual March for Life and were wearing hats that said, “Rosary Pro-Life.” While there, museum staff allegedly mocked the students, called them expletives, and told them their hats were “political statements” and that they were “not promoting equality,” according to the complaint. Staff also allegedly told them that the museum is a “neutral zone” and that the First Amendment “does not apply here” before ultimately making them leave the museum. The complaint notes that several other museum patrons were wearing hats and masks, some of which had rainbow “Pride” graphics.
Lawmakers told Bunch that they are “unaware of any laws, rules, or regulation prohibiting members of the public from wearing pro-life hats inside the Smithsonian office buildings.”
“Furthermore, there is a large body of jurisprudence reinforcing citizens’ First Amendment rights on public property,” the letter reads.
“As a federal entity and the recipient of more than $1 billion in federal funds every year, there should be no debate as to whether the First Amendment applies to the Smithsonian. We are deeply concerned about this unjust expulsion of young Americans from museums—subsidized with taxpayer dollars—for wearing apparel that your staff disagreed with,” the letter continues.
Lawmakers asked Bunch a series of questions about the incident and asked him to provide responses by Feb. 16, 2023.
The questions include:
- Were you made aware of the alleged incident said to have occurred on January 20, 2023?
- If so, when were you made aware of the incident?
- Has the Smithsonian conducted any internal investigations into the allegations?
- Please provide the names of the Smithsonian employees whose conduct is in question.
- What disciplinary action has the Smithsonian taken regarding this incident?
- If no action has been taken, please delineate the course of action the Smithsonian plans to take regarding this incident.
- Does the Smithsonian have any policy prohibiting pro-life sentiments from being expressed in its buildings or any policy deeming it a “neutral zone?”
- What efforts have you taken to ensure that the First Amendment rights of all Americans are respected at the Air and Space Museum and an incident like this never occurs again under your leadership?
The students are accusing the Smithsonian of violating their First and Fifth Amendment rights, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Their attorneys are asking the court to enjoin defendants from “unlawfully targeting Plaintiff, for disparate treatment and particular scrutiny based on content and viewpoint or association.” The lawsuit also requests that museum employees receive “appropriate training” to make sure their “conduct complies with federal law and the United States Constitution.”
The case is Kristi L. v. National Air and Space Museum, No. 1:23-cv-335 in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.