Court Rules for Pro-Life Activists After DC Officials Arrested Them While Ignoring BLM

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Washington D.C. officials “selectively” enforced a defacement statute to arrest pro-life activists who chalked a message on the sidewalk while allowing Black Lives Matter protestors to do much worse without any consequences.

In a 3-0 ruling, the court reversed a lower court’s dismissal of a complaint filed by the Frederick Douglass Foundation and ruled the city authorities treated the pro-life activists more harshly than BLM protestors.

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“The First Amendment prohibits discrimination on the basis of viewpoint irrespective of the government’s motive. We hold the Foundation has plausibly alleged the District discriminated on the basis of viewpoint in the selective enforcement of its defacement ordinance. We therefore reverse the dismissal of the Foundation’s First Amendment claim and remand for further proceedings,” reads the opinion.

In 2020, thousands of protesters flooded the streets of the District to proclaim “Black Lives Matter”.

The opinion explains, “Over several weeks, the protesters covered streets, sidewalks, and storefronts with paint and chalk. The markings were ubiquitous and in open violation of the District’s defacement ordinance, yet none of the protesters were arrested.”

The Foundation claimed that the pro-life activists’ First and Fifth Amendment rights were violated. They acknowledged that the chalk graffiti violated city ordinances but maintained Washington, D.C.’s enforcement of the laws was unconstitutional, selective, and viewpoint discrimination.

“During the same summer, District police officers arrested two pro-life advocates in a smaller protest for chalking ‘Black Pre-Born Lives Matter’ on a public sidewalk. The organizers of the smaller protest, the Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life of America (collectively ‘the Foundation’), sued,” the opinion said.

At the time, Students for Life of America president Kristen Hawkins said the group applied for and received from police a  permit to assemble outside of the clinic. She claimed she also requested permission on July 20 from District Mayor Muriel Bowser to paint the message but didn’t receive a response, National Review reports. 
 
A lower district court previously dismissed the Foundation’s lawsuit, but the appeals court ruled to overturn the dismissal. 

The non-profit legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) represented the Foundation.

“Washington officials can’t censor messages they disagree with. The right to free speech is for everyone, and we’re pleased the D.C. Circuit agreed that the Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life should be able to exercise their constitutionally protected freedom to peacefully share their views the same as anyone else,” said VP of the Center for Life and Regulatory Practice with Alliance Defending Freedom Erin Hawley.

“Every American deserves for their voice to be heard as they engage in important cultural and political issues of the day,” she added.