The National Archives and two pro-life activists have reached a deal in a legal case brought after the activists were denied entry to the National Archives Museum.
Security officers denied entry to multiple people, including law student Wendilee Lassiter, into the museum on Jan. 20 because of pro-life messages on their clothes.
The parties said in a joint motion on Feb. 14 that they hammered out an agreement stating, in part, that all defendants, including the Archives, are enjoined from barring visitors from wearing clothing that displays “protest language,” including religious and political speech. The block, which would not apply to clothing “containing profanity,” would be until Jan. 19, 2025, unless a new order were entered.
Additionally, every archive (NARA) security officer will be provided with a copy of the order, if the court agrees with the proposed agreement.
“NARA shall further reiterate to all NARA security officers, as well as all other NARA personnel who interact with the public, including docents, volunteers, museum staff, and archivists who interact with the public in NARA research rooms, that NARA policy expressly allows all visitors to wear t-shirts, hats, buttons, and other similar items, that display protest language, including religious and political speech,” the proposed agreement states.
Lassiter and a 17-year-old high school student from Michigan, described in court papers as L.R., will additionally receive personal tours of the museum and receive apologies from staff members during the tours.
Provided the agreement is approved, the case would move to a mediation program to explore a potential settlement.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee, is overseeing the case.
The plaintiffs were in Washington primarily to participate in the March for Life, according to court papers.
The Archives has already apologized in a statement.
“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,” the agency said in a statement.
“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,” the agency added.
A separate lawsuit was brought against the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum over acting against pro-life individuals who were participating in the March for Life in January.
Multiple minors and parents from Our Lady of the Rosary Church and School in South Carolina after the march went to the museum, where they were targeted over wearing hats with the inscription, “Rosary Pro-Life,” according to the suit.
The group entered the museum at two separate times. At each time, security officers ordered group members to remove their hats. They all complied, but several placed their hats back on once inside. They also observed other visitors wearing clothing with expressions, including a woman wearing a “PRIDE” face mask.
When officers spotted some of the students with hats, one allegedly stated: “The [expletive] pro-life” and “What a bunch of [expletive].” The group was told to remove the hats. Later, one officer allegedly later went to the group and said, “take them off or leave.” When asked why, the officer said, according to the suit, that the hats were “political statements” and “not promoting equality.” He claimed the First Amendment did not apply inside the museum.
The suit alleges First Amendment violations.
The Smithsonian said in a statement that a single 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 taxpayer-funded research institution said. “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.”
No agreement has yet been reached in the second suit, according to the court docket.
Bill Pan contributed to this report.