National Archives apologizes for asking people to cover-up anti-abortion messages

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(The Hill) — The National Archives and Smithsonian apologized this week after several museums asked March for Life participants to cover or remove attire displaying anti-abortion messages.

The actions by officials at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) was particularly notable since it houses documents enshrining free speech as a fundamental right in the United States.

“As the home to the original Constitution and Bill of Rights, which enshrine the rights of free speech and religion, we sincerely apologize for this occurrence,” NARA said in a statement released on Friday.

“NARA policy expressly allows all visitors to wear t-shirts, hats, buttons, etc. that display protest language, including religious and political speech. We are actively investigating to determine what happened,” NARA said. 

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which is led by chief counsel and former Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday connected to the issue.

The suit alleged that several people who had participated in the annual March for Life rally and subsequently entered the museum while wearing messages such as “Pro-Life” and “Love Saves Lives” were told to cover or remove their attire.

In its statement, NARA said security officials eventually did a u-turn in terms of asking people to cover up the messages.

“Early indications are that our security officers quickly corrected their actions and, from that point forward, all visitors were permitted to enter our facility without needing to remove or cover their attire. We have reminded all of our security officers at our facilities across the country of the rights of visitors in this regard,” it said in its statement.

The ACLJ’s lawsuit against NARA came two days after the center filed a separate, but similar lawsuit against the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. 

That lawsuit, which was filed on Monday, alleged that participants in the March for Life event “were subjected to a pattern of ongoing misconduct by at least five different staff, personnel, employees and/or security guards of NASM … which included targeting, harassment, discrimination and, ultimately, eviction from NASM simply because they wore blue hats with the inscription, ‘Rosary Pro-Life.’”

The Smithsonian, likewise, apologized for the incident at the National Air and Space Museum, saying in a statement that “a security officer mistakenly told young visitors that their pro-life hats were not permitted in the museum. Asking visitors to remove hats and clothing is not in keeping with our policy or protocols. We provided immediate retraining to prevent a re-occurrence of this kind of error.”

“The Smithsonian welcomes all visitors without regard to their beliefs. We do not deny access to our museums based on the messages on visitors’ clothing,” the Smithsonian added.

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