Police arrested David Benham and his son Saturday and said he violated coronavirus distancing orders while offering sidewalk counseling outside a North Carolina abortion clinic — an incident he said was targeted.
Benham, who started the pro-life sidewalk counseling service Cities4Life in 2010, told the Daily Caller News Foundation he received a call from some of the sidewalk counselors Saturday morning saying there were police outside Preferred Women’s Health Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Benham is a Christian entrepreneur and former professional baseball player who gained media attention after he and his brother Jason Benham’s reality HGTV show was canceled over the brothers’ religious views.
Three members of Cities4Life were at the clinic offering counseling Saturday, according to Benham, who said he drove to the clinic with two of his sons after hearing about the police.
“We are a federally recognized 501(c)(3) public charity,” he told the DCNF of Cities4Life. “We are an essential business. We have both a local ordinance, a stay in shelter local ordinance, and a stay in shelter state ordinance.”
Cities4Life is a publicly recognized charity that provides essential social services — like an ABC store, he said.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on March 27 issued a stay-at-home order in place until April 29, prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people and directing North Carolinians to stay at home except for essential activities or businesses, such as grocery shopping, outdoor activity, taking care of others, and working at essential businesses like hospitals.
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Local outlets reported that police said there were about 50 people protesting at the clinic, but Benham said that information is inaccurate. Cities4Life had three members present at the clinic and a mobile ultrasound unit attended by two members, according to Benham, while about 15 police officers were at the scene.
“By the time they took me away, there were individuals that came and showed up,” he said. “But there was no organized groups of people. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said there was a cluster, that there were 50 protesters. And of course, none of that is true.”
Video footage from the incident showed Benham telling a police officer that he and Cities4Life are within their rights to stand outside the clinic, adding that they are practicing social distancing and standing six feet apart.
“We are practicing social distancing, we have cleaned our hands, we are offering help to these mothers,” Benham told the police officers in the video.
He told the DCNF that Cities4Life took multiple precautions against the virus, including drawing on the sidewalk to mark appropriate distances for the sidewalk counselors.
He continued: “And if you are saying that we don’t have the right to be here, then go in the abortion clinic and make the arrests there.”
“I don’t have the authority to go in the abortion clinic,” the police officer said.
“So you don’t have the authority to go into the abortion clinic, but you have the authority to bully us and our sidewalk counselors?” Benham asked the officer.
“I’m not budging,” he added. “And our sidewalk counselors are not budging.”
“You know I am well within my constitutional authority to be here,” Benham said, as he was handcuffed. “You know that we are doing the right thing.”
The video footage showed Benham telling the officers that he and the other sidewalk counselors are acting within their constitutional rights to be there, and that the group is a recognized charity “offering essential services” within the law to assist women in at-risk situations.
“I’m actually thankful that when I got tapped on the shoulder, I didn’t even hesitate and just did it,” Benham told the DCNF of his arrest. “Then I felt courage inside of me and I felt a real pain in my heart for my country, and I felt a real threat to my children’s future.”
“And you’ll see on the video, when they cuffed me, I said something and I almost burst out crying. I swallowed it back because I was just hit with such emotion that I can’t believe my country is doing this. I can’t believe these officers,” he said. “And it wasn’t the officers. It’s whoever’s instructing the officers. I can’t believe we’ve gotten to this point where we’re going to use a national healthcare emergency, a global healthcare emergency and global healthcare crisis to grab on unlimited power of the government and steal constitutional rights from pro-life Christians.”
Benham was booked and released four hours later, he said, with an upcoming court date of June 2. He and seven others were charged with Violation of Emergency Prohibitions and Restrictions, according to WBTV.
“I was already in jail — just the holding tank — for about an hour. And then all of a sudden I look up and boom, here comes my 20-year-old with cuffs on,” Benham said.
“I said, ‘What on earth happened?’ He was like, ‘Well, you know, I wasn’t even standing around anyone and they told me I had to leave and there wasn’t even 10 people there.’ And so I was like, ‘Well, I might as well go down and like my dad.’”
Benham said the incident showed “viewpoint discrimination” from the mayor of Charlotte, the city council members of Charlotte, and the city attorney of Charlotte.
“They’ve been after us for years,” he said. “Against conservative voices.”
“So once this coven crisis hit, this was their opportunity for a power grab,” he added.
Benham pointed the DCNF toward a March 28 tweet from Charlotte City Councilwoman Julie Eiselt in which she asked police to shut down pro-life activity at an abortion clinic. Eiselt, who did not respond to a request for comment from the DCNF, noted in another tweet that pro-lifers had been protesting at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
Neither Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles nor the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department replied to multiple requests for comment from the DCNF.
Benham noted that the police understood “very clearly” that Cities4Life had the right to be at the clinic.
“They had one of their officers on the phone with their attorney,” he said. “And so every argument I was making, they would then make that argument to their attorney and then come back with what they were trying to say. And every time we just twisted them right up and said, ‘Nope, Nope. Doesn’t work. Here’s why.’”
“They should have never made that arrest,” he added. “They should’ve never done it. But they did.”
Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz defended Benham in a Saturday tweet, calling the arrest “unconstitutional.”
“My friend David Benham was unconstitutionally arrested today in NC for peacefully providing pregnancy counseling outside an abortion clinic. If NC deems abortion “essential,” then pregnancy care services are as well. This is WRONG; Governor Cooper should be ashamed,” he tweeted.
“This is an unconstitutional arrest,” Cruz added in another tweet. “@BenhamBrothers exercising core First Amendment rights. PEACEFULLY. In a way fully consistent w/ public safety. Because elected Dems are pro-abortion, they are abusing their power—in a one-sided way—to silence pregnancy counselors.”
Both Live Action and Live Action’s president Lila Rose weighed in on the matter as well.
“It is DESPICABLE & unconstitutional for pro-abortion bureaucrats to order the arrest of peaceful Americans who pray & offer hope outside abortion facilities, all while allowing the lethal abortion industry to continue killing innocent children during a pandemic,” Rose tweeted.
LifeNews Note: Mary Margaret Olohan writes for Daily Caller. Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience.