GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Weeks after a lawsuit was filed against the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum by students from a South Carolina Catholic school who allege they were kicked out of the museum for their beliefs, lawyers say they have reached an agreement which would prevent such incidents from happening in the future.
However, they said, the case is far from over.
In January, a group of 15 students, parent chaperones, and faculty members from the Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic school in Greenville were reportedly kicked out of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum for wearing anti-abortion beanies.
The hats, bright blue with the words “Rosary pro-life” embroidered on the front, are what sparked concern from state lawmakers and later a civil lawsuit.
“To think that a group of kids from a Christian school in Greenville, South Carolina are to come up to D.C. for a big opportunity to engage and express their beliefs and see the nation’s capital and be treated like that is outrageous,” said Ben Sisney, Senior Litigation Counsel, American Center for Law and Justice.
Sisney is the lead attorney representing the Greenville students, parents, and faculty in the Smithsonian case.
In recent documents, the Smithsonian agreed to enter into a consent order and preliminary injunction. According to American Center for Law and Justice, it’s a court order prohibiting the Smithsonian from allowing similar incidents like this from happening in the future.
“This is a positive step that validates that what they went through was wrong,” said Sisney. “This agreed order just sets in stone that that won’t happen while this case is pending. It’s our belief that the case will resolve either by settlement or trial with a final order of that nature, or maybe even one that goes farther than that.”
Nexstar’s WSPA reached out to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on Wednesday. They responded, acknowledging the situation:
“We apologize that visitors to the National Air and Space Museum were asked to remove their hats on Friday, Jan. 20. A security officer mistakenly told young visitors that their pro-life hats were not permitted in the museum. Asking visitors to remove hats and clothing is not in keeping with our policy or protocols. We provided immediate retraining to prevent a re-occurrence of this kind of error.”
A representative from the museum said the Smithsonian welcomes all visitors without regard to their beliefs and assured that they do not deny access based on messages on visitors’ clothing.
As for what’s next with the case, lawyers said they’re working to find out why their clients were allegedly targeted.
“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. We are going to go to mediation and we’ll see if we can resolve the case or narrow the issues of dispute,” said Sisney. “This case could, in theory, last quite a while as lawsuits can do.”
According to ACLJ, they expect to formally mediate within the next three weeks or so. Lawyers on the case said it can take up to 90 days once they begin.
ACLJ also said they are representing clients in a similar case that occurred on the same day in Washington, D.C. at the National Archives.
In a lawsuit filed against the National Archives last month, ACLJ alleged several people who had participated in the annual March for Life rally and subsequently entered the museum while wearing messages such as “Pro-Life” and “Love Saves Lives” were told to cover or remove their attire.
In its statement, NARA said security officials eventually did a u-turn in terms of asking people to cover up the messages.
The Hill’s Caroline Vakil contributed to this report.