The National Archives and Records Administration has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by pro-life advocates by giving them a private tour and apologizing in person for censoring the anti-abortion messaging on their clothing.
The proposed consent agreement filed Tuesday in federal court comes a week after four March for Life participants sued, saying they were told to remove or cover up their pro-life T-shirts, sweatshirts, buttons and hats during the Jan. 20 visit to the National Archives Museum.
The National Archives also asserted in the consent order that its policy allows visitors to wear clothing “that display protest language, including political and religious speech,” and that its security personnel will be reminded of that policy.
The Joint Motion for Approval and Entry of the Proposed Consent Order is now before U.S. District Court Judge Timothy J. Kelly, the Trump appointee overseeing the case.
“The Proposed Consent Order is a product of good-faith, arms-length negotiation,” said the filing. “The Parties took into consideration the litigation risks, the benefits to both parties avoiding those risks and of protracted litigation, and the public interest, including that the Proposed Consent Order sends a message of NARA’s intention and commitment to upholding Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”
The National Archives issued a public apology Friday to the pro-life visitors two days after the American Center for Law and Justice filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
“Earlier this week, a lawsuit was filed against the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) stating that on the morning of January 20, 2023, the day of the March for Life, several visitors to our museum in Washington, D.C., were told by NARA security officers “to remove or cover their attire because of their pro-life messages,’” said the NARA in its Friday 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,” said the statement.
The proposed consent agreement was reached with three of the plaintiffs: Wendilee Walpole Lassiter, a student at the Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Virginia, and Tamara R. and her teenage daughter L.R., who were part of a group from a Catholic high school in Michigan.
Not mentioned in the motion was the fourth plaintiff, Terrie Kallal of Illinois, who visited the National Archives museum with her unnamed granddaughter.
The institution plans to give Ms. Lassiter a “personal tour of the National Archives Museum on February 17, 2023, and NARA staff shall extend Lassiter a personal apology on that tour,” the proposed agreement said.
Tamara R. and her daughter L.R. would also receive a tour and apology “on a time and date to be mutually agreed.”
The Smithsonian also issued an apology last week after being sued by a group of Catholic students and chaperones from Greenville, South Carolina, who were told during a Jan. 20 visit to the National Air and Space Museum to take off their pro-life beanies or leave.
That lawsuit was also filed by the ACLJ. Both complaints allege violations of the First and Fifth Amendments and Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The 50th annual March for Life was held Jan. 20, the first march held since the Supreme Court’s June 24 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade and sent decision-making on abortion back to the states.