A Liberty University Law School student is part of a group of pro-life Americans suing the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) after security guards told her and several others to cover up or remove their pro-life hats and shirts or they wouldn’t be allowed to tour the museum and view the nation’s founding documents, such as the U.S. Constitution.
On January 20, Wendilee Lassiter got on one of 12 buses leaving Liberty University to exercise her constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly as part of the March for Life in Washington D.C.
On the morning of her visit to the nation’s capital, Lassiter went to the National Archives, wanting to view what are known as the Charters of Freedom: the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. To her astonishment, she was one of numerous pro-life patrons who were told that, at the museum, their free speech and freedom of religion was not permitted.
The plaintiffs, none of whom knew each other before attending the National Archives Museum, were all ordered to take off or cover up their clothing displaying pro-life messaging.
Lassiter was even told she wasn’t allowed in because of her clothing. According to the suit, after Lassiter went through the metal detector at the entrance to the building, one security guard pointed at her and said to a different guard, “She can’t come in here.”
The guard approached Lassiter and allegedly said, “You have to take your shirt off. Your shirt will incite others,” as well as “cause a disturbance.” Her shirt was a black sweatshirt saying, “I AM THE POST-ROE GENERATION: LAW STUDENTS FOR LIFE.”
“I can’t come in here unless I take my sweatshirt off?” Lassiter responded.
“No, you can’t,” the guard responded.
Lassiter took the sweatshirt off, but said that during her visit, she saw two people with pro-choice shirts on.
Joining Lassiter in the lawsuit are an unnamed teenage plaintiff and her mother. The daughter, referred to as “L.R.,” is Catholic and attended NARA with her Catholic high school. L.R. says in the suit that she and her classmates were told by staff several times to take off their pro-life hats, buttons, and shirts.
Terrie Kallal was also at NARA that day with her relative, and they were both wearing shirts with pro-life messages. Kallal says that a security guard told them to zip up their jackets because their clothing was “offensive.”
Kallal said that, although she knew the order violated her rights, she obeyed because she and her family member had traveled a long distance and she did not want to have to miss seeing the Charters of Freedom.
The plaintiffs are represented by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a conservative legal organization.
In a video shown on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, Lassiter said, “To be told that I can’t wear my shirt in there — where those documents guarantee that right — is just mind boggling.”
After the lawsuit was filed last week, NARA said 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.”
Jordan Sekulow, executive director of ACLJ, noted that “These apologies they issue…they only issue after we come out to the public and say what happened.”
On Tuesday, Lassiter and the mother of the teenage plaintiff agreed with NARA on a consent order stipulating that the National Archives would not stop visitors from wearing t-shirts, hats, buttons, or other items displaying protest speech. NARA will also provide Lassiter a private tour on February 17 and issue her an apology.
ACLJ has also filed a lawsuit regarding another such occurrence at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. When students, parents, and chaperones of Our Lady of the Rosary Church and School went to the museum, they were all wearing blue hats with the message “Rosary Pro-Life.” The suit alleges that the plaintiffs were told multiple times to take off their hats or they wouldn’t be allowed in.
One of the employees allegedly told them, “Y’all are about to make my day. You’ve been told multiple times to take your hats off, and you have not taken them off. You need to take them off or leave.” The guard also allegedly said that the First Amendment “does not apply here.”
The suit argues that the government violated both the First and Fifth Amendment rights of the plaintiffs.
This case exemplifies the current tyranny rising in the United States, where our freedoms are under full-scale attack by the very government that is supposed to protect them. Whether that is churches being restricted on when and how they worship, or pro-life activists being arrested for praying and protesting peacefully, or parents and Catholics being targeted by the FBI as domestic terrorists for speaking out at school board meetings or attending Latin Mass, the government is increasingly hostile to its own core governing principles.
Perhaps the best summary is found in the testimony of “L.R.,” the teenage plaintiff. She said she was “astonished” by the guard’s instructions, “given her close proximity to the very documents that prohibit the government’s interference with her First Amendment right to free speech and expression and her free exercise of religion.” The suit includes a Snapchat message she sent to a friend in which she explains,
“He told me to take off my pro-life pin as I was standing next to the constitution that literally says Freedom of Speech on it.”
Or as Lassiter put it: “This is America. Things like this just shouldn’t happen.”
Proverbs 11:2 teaches that “When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom.”
It’s sad that Lassiter, the Catholic teen, and other young Americans understand the freedoms guaranteed to them and every other U.S. citizen better than the employees charged with protecting our founding documents and history.
The quick apologies and offer for redress show that, deep down, the leaders of these institutions know they did wrong, but the plaintiffs should press forward in their legal challenge, because without real judicial consequences, these ideologically driven, constitutionally ignorant, and power-hungry government employees will continue to infringe on the rights of peaceful Americans.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.