By finding that D.C., government officials “selectively” implemented a law in 2020 to arrest pro-life demonstrators but not BLM protestors, a federal appeals court this week handed the free speech movement a significant win.
During the summer of 2020, there were a lot of BLM protesters in D.C., and over the course of a few weeks, they painted and chalked the streets, walkways, and shops. Even though these marks broke the District’s law against defacing property, no protesters were jailed. But in a smaller protest, two pro-life supporters wrote “Black Un-Born Lives Matter” in chalk on a public path outside a D.C. Planned Parenthood building and were quickly arrested.
Judge Neomi Rao wrote in the D.C. Circuit ruling that overturned a lower court’s decision that “the government can’t apply the law in a way that picks the winners or losers in open debates. It would weaken the protections provided by the First Amendment for free speech assuming the government could pass a law with no restrictions on the content of speech and then use prosecutorial discretion to target unpopular ideas.”
The three-judge panel said, “The First Amendment forbids discrimination based on viewpoint, no matter what the government’s goal is.”
“We agree with the Foundation’s claim that the District’s selective enforcement of this defacement law was based on political bias. So, we reverse the court’s decision to throw out the Foundation’s First Amendment claim and send it back for more hearings.”
The Frederick Douglass Institute members along with Students for Life of America were the plaintiffs in the action, which was brought by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Neomi Rao, Robert Wilkins, and Michelle Childs were the three judges.
VP of the ADF Center and ADF Senior Counsel Erin Hawley, who represented the pro-life groups in court, made the following remarks:
“Politicians in Washington can’t block words they don’t like. Everyone has the right of free speech, and we’re glad that the D.C. Circuit Court agrees that the Frederick Douglass Institute and Students for Life need to be allowed to use their constitutionally safeguarded freedom to share their ideas respectfully just like everyone else.”
“Every American has a right to be heard when they talk about important cultural as well as political issues.”
President of the Virginia Chapter of the Frederick Douglass Institute, J.R. Gurley, praised the court’s ruling in a statement.
Gurley said, “The city should not let some groups take part in the public forum but not others just because the city officials don’t agree with their point of view. The First Amendment protects our right to share our pro-life stance in Washington, D.C. in a peaceful way without worrying about unfair government punishments, and the D.C. Circuit agreed.”