The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Tuesday upheld the First Amendment rights of two pro-life organizations that sought to write a pro-life message in chalk on a city sidewalk.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys representing members of the Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life of America (SFLA) filed suit after Washington, D.C., officials refused to grant members of the two groups permission to chalk their message on a city sidewalk in 2020, even though the city allowed other groups to paint messages on other city streets. The messages by the other groups were more in line with the viewpoints of D.C. officials, ADF said.
The court’s decision is a major victory for free speech, said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America (SFLA).
“It’s very encouraging that there was a unanimous 3-0 decision in favor of the free speech rights of pro-life students, peacefully protesting in our nation’s capital,” Hawkins said. “Viewpoint discrimination is un-American, and, as the case proceeds, we look forward to learning more about how D.C. officials picked winners and losers in their enforcement. Free speech rights you’re afraid to use don’t really exist, and we will keep fighting for the rights of our students to stand up for the preborn and their mothers, and against the predatory abortion industry led by Planned Parenthood.”Tuesday’s D.C. Circuit opinion reverses the decision of a lower court in the Frederick Douglass Foundation v. District of Columbia case. In its opinion, the D.C. Circuit wrote, “It would undermine the First Amendment’s protections for free speech if the government could enact a content-neutral law and then discriminate against disfavored viewpoints under the cover of prosecutorial discretion.”
The case evolved in June 2020, when the D.C. mayor commissioned a mural reading “Black Lives Matter” in permanent yellow paint. Protestors quickly added their “Defund the Police” message to the mural and painted other permanent protest art on D.C. streets and private property. The city left these favored messages in place for months, ADF said. Yet when the Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life of America sought to use chalk to display a different message—“Black Pre-Born Lives Matter”—on a public street outside of the D.C. Planned Parenthood facility, police arrested them.
“The city shouldn’t allow some groups to participate in the public forum and shun others from doing so just because city officials disagree with their viewpoint,” said Frederick Douglass Foundation Virginia Chapter President J.R. Gurley. “The First Amendment protects our right to peacefully share our pro-life message in Washington, D.C. without fear of unjust government punishment and thankfully, the D.C. Circuit agreed.”
Photo: Students for Life America