National Gallery of Art Under Fire for Blocking Woman With Pro-Life Lapel Pin

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 27, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

National Gallery of Art Under Fire for Blocking Woman With Pro-Life Lapel Pin

by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 27
, 2010

Washington, DC ( — The National Gallery of Art is coming under fire from a pro-life advocate who says officials there prevented her from entering the facility because she had a pro-life lapel pin. Meghan Duke writes about her experience in a blog post at the First Things web site.

"While visiting the National Gallery of Art this past Saturday, I ran into a pair of errant security guards who have taken to interpreting the Constitution in their spare time," she writes.

Duke planned to stop in to see some of the famous works of art after spending time at the March for Life.

Searching for inspiration for her interest in photography and anticipating a visit to an exhibit on processes of photography before the digital age, Duke entered the facility excited about her time there.

But, after searching her bag, two guards at the Gallery told her, "You’re good to go in, but first you need to remove that pro-life pin.”

"He was indicating the small lime green pin with the message ‘’ and the silhouette of a small hand inside that of a larger hand that I had attached to the lapel of my coat," Duke writes today.

"The pin, they informed me, was a ‘religious symbol’ and a symbol of a particular political cause and it could not be worn inside a federal building," Duke continues.

"Why, I asked, can I not wear a religious or political symbol inside a federal building? Bringing to bear the full weight of the supreme law of the land, the guards informed that it was a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution: The combination of me, wearing a pro-life pin, in a federal building was a violation of the separation of church and state," she explained.

Asked for a written copy of the rules preventing her from wearing a pro-life pin as a visitor to the gallery, they informed her the rules were not allowed for public viewing.

Neither Duke nor could find a copy of the rules on the NGA web site and NGA routed a call for comment for this article to a staff member whose voice mail kicked in but who has not responded to a message left.

Duke also says there is no mention of the prohibition of the expression of free speech by wearing religious or political symbols in title 40 section 6303 of the U.S. code which gives a list of illegal activities at the National Gallery of Art as well as the Smithsonian Institution and the J.F.K. Center for the Performing Arts.

Duke has since learned the guards were apparently acting out of order.

"I followed up on my experience with a spokesperson for the Gallery this morning and was told that the guards acted entirely on their own initiative and would be censured," she said in the First Things post. "The spokesperson explained that the museum has a policy against carrying posters and signs into the museum, no matter the message, to prevent damage to the art—but none against lapel pins."

"It is good to know that the Gallery does not have a policy of censoring free speech, but the actions and arguments of the guards illustrate—besides complete confusion as to the purpose of the First Amendment—an all too common misconception of the role of religion in public life," she concluded.

Duke says she thinks the guards were looking for pro-life pins in the wake of the March for Life.

ACTION: Contact the National Gallery of Art at 401 Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC 20004, (202) 842-6691 or at

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