Pro-life activists seeking to paint a “Black Preborn Lives Matter” message this Saturday on a street facing a Planned Parenthood clinic in Northeast Washington, D.C. will have to do so without the court’s blessing.
U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg refused Friday to issue a preliminary injunction stopping police from enforcing the District’s defacement ordinance, even though authorities in June allowed the painting of “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police” on 16th Street NW leading to the White House.
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, accused the judge of denying pro-life activists “the freedom enjoyed by others.”
“We are disappointed that the free speech rights of pro-life Americans in our nation’s capital are not being protected and respected,” she said in a statement. “It matters whether alternative points of views to those in power are heard and whether every place where groups are allowed to express themselves be open to all of us.”
Students for Life and the Frederick Douglass Foundation sued the District in November after they were stopped Aug. 1 by police from painting their slogan on 4th Street NE — two protesters were arrested for writing chalk messages — but the judge rejected their viewpoint-discrimination argument.
He said that the enormous yellow “Black Lives Matter” message was commissioned by the District — Mayor Muriel Bowser oversaw the painting — and that allowing protesters to paint “Defund the Police” without a permit was a law-enforcement call “driven not by the message being painted, but rather by public-safety imperatives.”
“Thousands upon thousands of impassioned Americans poured into the tight streets in front of the White House in early June, many of whom came to protest law enforcement of the very type that would have been tasked with curtailing the painting,” said Judge Boasberg in his ruling.
He called it a “once-in-a-generation protest packing the streets in the heart of our city.”
“While enforcing the Ordinance may have led to a cleaner street, it all too easily could have transformed a then-peaceful gathering into something far less sedate, with considerable risk to the safety of both civilians and dramatically outnumbered law-enforcement personnel,” he said.
He contrasted the atmosphere with the “comparably tranquil scene” at the Aug. 1 pro-life protest, calling it a “far less chaotic gathering outside a Planned Parenthood for which at most 49 people were expected to show.”
Judge Boasberg also said that the pro-life groups had failed to establish a pattern with the District’s failure to enforce its defacement ordinance, but warned the District against letting the situation get out of hand.
“[The court] simply intends to sound warning chimes for both parties: one alerting Plaintiffs to the uphill battle they face should they desire to continue pursuing their presently requested relief, and another reminding the District of the distinctly unpleasant results that a successfully established pattern of content-discriminatory Ordinance enforcement might yield,” he said in his 45-page ruling.
The District painted over the “Defund the Police” message about two months later, but “Black Lives Matter” still adorns 16th Street.
Pro-life activists still plan to assemble Saturday on the sidewalk outside Planned Parenthood on 4th Street NE, but the District-issued permit says that they not authorized to “paint, chalk, or mark in any manner the street or sidewalk.”
The permit “expressly denies us the right to even use chalk,” said Ms. Hawkins.
“This kind of viewpoint discrimination should not be permitted, and yet a federal judge today has also denied Students for Life of America’s request for an injunction to allow us the freedom enjoyed by others,” she said. “Still, the case proceeds, and we look forward to our day in court.”
Judge Boasberg was appointed in 2011 to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by former President Barack Obama after being named by former President George W. Bush to serve on the Superior Court for the District of Columbia.