The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum kicked out a dozen Catholic high school students and their chaperones for wearing beanies inscribed with pro-life messages.
On Jan. 20, students and chaperones from Our Lady of the Rosary School based out of Greenville, South Carolina, traveled to Washington, D.C., for the annual National March for Life. The group members were all wearing matching blue beanies with the words "Rosary PRO-LIFE."
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), representing the parents of some of the students involved, alleged that the museum staff mocked the students, hurled expletives and claimed the museum was a "neutral zone" where political or religious messages were not allowed.
On Twitter, the mother of one of the students said the group was approached by a security guard who told them to either take off their beanies or leave the premises. Her daughter allegedly told the guard they were wearing the hats to identify and find one another in the crowd before they were escorted out of the museum.
Other people in the museum were wearing all sorts of different hats as they traversed the exhibits, according to ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow.
"This is a clear and egregious abuse of the First Amendment, which protects their right to free speech without government interference, and we are ready to take action," Sekulow said. "A government institution cannot censor an individual's speech, much less speech from the inherently Christian pro-life position."
Sekulow, noting that the Smithsonian Institution is a federal entity that receives upwards of $1 billion from the government each fiscal year, said the decision by the museum was an example of "outrageous" and "abhorrent" discrimination.
A spokesperson for the museum released a statement about what transpired and said the incident did not adhere to their policy or protocols.
"Asking visitors to remove hats and clothing is not in keeping with our policy or protocols. We provided immediate training to prevent a re-occurrence of this kind of incident, and have determined steps to ensure this does not happen again," said Alison Wood, the museum's deputy director of communications.