Two pro-life groups are suing Washington D.C. on allegations of discrimination.
Washington DC was recently charged by two pro-life groups on charges that the city “discriminated against its pro-life views by denying permission to paint or chalk messages on the street while other activist groups let it . The lawsuit was filed in federal court on November 18 on behalf of the Frederick Douglass Foundation (FDF) and Students for Life of America (SFLA).
Pro-life activist with March for Life; Image courtesy of Maria Oswalt via Unsplash, www.unsplash.com
According to the lawsuit, DC police discriminated against the groups "by preventing them from chalking real-life messages on the sidewalk, while not punishing other groups after drawing and chalking messages on the streets and sidewalks of DC this year" . The lawsuit filed by Alliance Defending Freedom further states:
“The District of Columbia, like many American jurisdictions, prohibits defacing public property … While such laws are designed to prohibit criminal activity, they should not be used as a tool to silence unfavorable language. But that is exactly what the district and the defendants did. "
Outrage spread among the groups when two of their protesters were arrested on August 1 after attempting "to write a realistic message in chalk on the sidewalk outside a planned parenting clinic in Washington, DC." While the two protesters were busy writing “Pre-born Black Lives Matter,” “a phrase designed to draw attention to the abortion rate in the African American community – with chalk on the sidewalk, a police officer told them if you should move on chalk, you are being arrested, ”the lawsuit said.
The two protesters were Students For Life employee Warner DePriest and a student. Despite the warning, "they kept writing, and two other officers came up to them and handcuffed them." SFLA President Kristen Hawkins later said the group had "applied for and received permission from the police to hold a meeting outside the clinic." In addition, in a letter she sent to District Mayor Muriel Bowser on July 20, Hawkins asked for permission to paint “Black Pre-Born Lives Matter” on the street outside the planned parenting clinic.
Although the group did not receive a written response from the mayor about the paintings on the sidewalk, Hawkins said a "police officer directly told the group that protesters would not be prevented from being painted by police". In addition, in the days leading up to the demonstration, police officers told Tina Whittington, Executive Vice President of the SFLA, that a “Pandora box” on the subject of painting had been opened and that although the group would not be prevented from painting, they should paint a color during their demonstration use that can be washed off quickly, ”says the lawsuit.
Although it was essentially said that writing messages would be fine, police on August 1 informed members of the group that they could not use paint or chalk to write a message. In the end, the two protesters who started writing the chalk messages were "cited and then released," according to the Metropolitan Police Department. When issuing the quotations, the police authority cited "a city law that makes writing, marking, drawing or painting on public property illegal without the express permission of the city authorities".
As part of the lawsuit, the pro-life groups argue that the district is "selectively enforcing the law and referring to other cases of painting on public property that the city did not want to prevent".
For example, earlier this year Bowser “ordered a portion of 16th Street near the White House that was painted with the slogan“ Black Lives Matter ”during the mass anti-racism protests in the city … and protesters also said“ Defund the Police ” Painted the same street on the street as an addition to Bowser's message and did not seek permission, ”the lawsuit said.
The suit also notes many other instances of graffiti and street art that covered DC all summer, stating:
"No arrests have been made, and no one has been charged with graffiti, painting, chalk, or street art … despite the fact that such demolition of public property is clearly a violation of the District Disfigurement Ordinance."
In the letter she sent to the mayor, Hawkins said, "If you open the door to free speech to a group on the city streets, you cannot withhold it from others."
J. R. Gurley, Virginia Chapter President of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, intervened, saying:
“The city shouldn't be able to silence and punish us for expressing ideas it doesn't agree with. Government officials cannot discriminate against peaceful representations on the basis of our beliefs about abortion if they have given other groups the same means of expressing their beliefs. If the mayor allows other messages to be painted and chalked, we should be able to express our views in the same way without fear of unfair government punishment. "
Pro-life groups are suing DC over chalk messages, claiming they have been discriminated against from a point of view.
Pro-life protesters arrested for chalk on the sidewalk