The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum is considered by many Americans to be among the best museums that our nation’s capital has to offer. Generations of students have seen history come alive as they step inside World War Two fighter jets, touch spacecrafts, and witness firsthand the artifacts that show America’s quest to conquer the skies. All of this history is funded by a billion-dollar annual subsidy from the American taxpayers to the Smithsonian Institute. Yet, a group of American students were turned away from this iconic museum for the crime of expressing their pro-life beliefs on the hats they wore.
Students and chaperones from Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville, South Carolina were visiting our nation’s capital for the annual March for Life when they decided to take full advantage of their trip by also visiting the Air & Space Museum. The beanies they wore to help their group stay together simply said “Rosary PRO-LIFE.” Upon arriving, museum staff allegedly “mocked the students, hurled expletives, and claimed the museum was a ‘neutral zone’ where political or religious messages were not allowed.” The group was then escorted back out onto the street.
The staff at the National Air & Space Museum need to walk across the Mall to the National Archives, because they clearly have a poor understanding of the Bill of Rights. The right of those students to peacefully wear pro-life hats in a public setting is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They cannot be discriminated against for their political or religious beliefs, especially in a federal facility funded by taxpayers. While the right of those taxpayer-funded museum employees to hurl expletives at schoolchildren is questionable, the free speech right of those students is beyond debate.
A representative of the museum was quick to walk back this violation when the story picked up national media attention. She admitted that “asking visitors to remove hats and clothing is not in keeping with our policy or protocols.” Yet, her halfhearted attempt to squash this story is not convincing. Those that have the privilege of working at the Smithsonian should know better than anyone that the free speech rights we hold as Americans are sacred.