Two African American pro-life leaders filed a lawsuit Friday against the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., alleging that it violated their rights to freedom of speech and religious liberty.
The lawsuit stems from an incident on Feb. 1 when the Rev. Clenard H. Childress Jr. and Jacqueline Hawkins, two African American pro-life advocates, set up a display outside the Smithsonian’s new museum in downtown Washington, D.C.
The pro-life display was a project of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, a California-based pro-life organization, which also is a party in the lawsuit, Christian Post reports.
Childress, Hawkins and organization director Gregg Cunningham set up a poster outside the African American museum on Feb. 1 to expose how the abortion industry targets black women and babies, according to the American Freedom Law Center, which represents the pro-lifers in the suit.
When the museum staff noticed the display, they told Childress and Hawkins that they had to move, according to the lawsuit. When Childress and Hawkins said they were allowed to be on the public sidewalk, a museum staff member called the police, according to the lawsuit.
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The pro-life legal group explained:
The senior OPS officer warned Pastor Childress and Ms. Hawkins that if they did not move to a location across the street, then he and his fellow officers would physically move them. … Rather than face arrest or physical force, Pastor Childress and Ms. Hawkins ceased their expressive activity and moved per the officer’s order. The OPS officer, acting on behalf of [the museum], forced Pastor Childress and Ms. Hawkins to move to a location where they could not reach their target audience and where their message would be silenced.
In the lawsuit, the parties ask the museum to admit to violating the pro-life advocates’ constitutional rights to free speech and religious expression, and recognize that the sidewalks outside the museum are “public forums for free speech activity.”
“Our clients have a clear right under the First Amendment to engage in their peaceful, non-obstructive free speech activity on the public sidewalks outside of this museum,” said Robert Muise, senior counsel for the legal group. “If the curators won’t tell the story about the impact of abortion on the African American community inside the museum, our clients will exercise their free speech rights and tell it outside.”
Muise said the museum should be the one informing people about the impact of abortion on the African American community, but it is not. The legal group pointed to statistics indicating that approximately 18 million unborn black babies have been aborted in the past 40 years.
“… at a minimum, African American citizens such as Pastor Childress and Ms. Hawkins shouldn’t be threatened by government officials with arrest or force for expressing their message on the public sidewalks in front of this museum,” Muise said.
The museum previously faced criticism for pushing a liberal agenda when it omitted U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas from its displays. Thomas, a conservative, is the second African American to serve on the high court.