David Benham Was Arrested for Exercising His First Amendment Rights
Update: March 30, 2023 – Mecklenburg County agreed to a settlement in which it admitted to violating the rights of David Benham and two other pro-life organizations who were arrested for praying peacefully and counseling people on the sidewalk. As a result of the settlement, ADF attorneys dismissed Mecklenburg County from the case. Read the press release.
David Benham was handcuffed, arrested, and taken to jail along with his father and son.
And yet, he says it was all worth it. Why? Because that morning two lives were saved.
Read more about this case below.
Who is David Benham?
You may recognize David.
He and his twin brother, Jason Benham, are former minor league baseball players. Back in 2014, the Benham brothers were set to have their own home improvement show on HGTV. Until, suddenly, the show was canceled before it even began. The network caved to external pressure after a controversy over the brothers’ Christian beliefs about marriage.
It’s safe to say that David is no stranger to facing unfair consequences because of his religious beliefs. But he never expected to go to jail that day.
David and his brother founded Cities4Life, a pro-life group focused on providing a positive and prayerful witness to women walking into abortion facilities. “It’s a Gospel-centered ministry,” says David. “We’re not trying to end abortion. We’re bringing the kingdom, we’re loving our neighbors as ourselves, and as a result, the end of abortion will come. That’s our prayer.”
Benham v. City of Charlotte
On the morning of April 4, 2020, Cities4Life volunteers were peacefully standing outside an abortion facility in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Then the police arrived.
It didn’t matter that these pro-life witnesses were following all the guidelines put into place by North Carolina’s “stay-at-home” order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They only gathered in a group of fewer than 10 people and maintained a distance of six feet from each other. It also didn’t matter that Cities4Life was an “essential service” and permitted to continue operating under the COVID-19 order.
Police still arrested several Cities4Life volunteers, including David, his father, and his son.
David’s arrest was caught on camera. He is seen speaking respectfully to the police officer. “This is wrong, and you know it,” said David Benham as officers handcuffed him.
This morning, @daviddbenham was unlawfully arrested while supporting sidewalk counselors outside an abortion clinic. Many have labeled David a fake Christian and claimed that he endangered lives by being out. These accusations couldn’t further from the truth. pic.twitter.com/5NB629z3CH— Benham Brothers (@BenhamBrothers) April 5, 2020
The video went viral on Twitter the next day. Many, including Senator Ted Cruz, called the arrest a clear violation of David’s First Amendment rights.
While police and government officials have a duty to protect the health and safety of everyone during a health crisis, they must apply any regulations equally.
David and the other Cities4Life advocates were arrested by police while the abortion facility they were standing outside of was allowed to continue its activities uninhibited. David said it well: “My constitutional rights don’t go out the door because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. We went above and beyond to protect our neighbor, but we also are essential to protect our most vulnerable neighbors, the unborn.”
Following the arrest, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys sent a letter to city officials calling on them to drop all criminal charges and vow not to infringe on citizens’ rights in this way again. Soon after, ADF filed a lawsuit against Charlotte and Mecklenburg County for their clear First Amendment violations.
- April 2020: ADF sent a demand letter to the City of Charlotte on David’s behalf. Later that month, ADF filed a lawsuit against Charlotte and Mecklenburg County on behalf of David and other pro-life groups who were also punished for exercising their First Amendment rights.
- August 2021: ADF filed an amended complaint in the case.
- March 2023: Mecklenburg County agreed to a settlement. Accordingly, ADF dismissed the county from the case.
In March 2023, Mecklenburg County agreed to a settlement in which it admitted to violating the rights of David Benham and two other pro-life organizations who were arrested for praying peacefully and counseling people on the sidewalk. The county vowed to allow religious gatherings and peaceful pro-life activities in the case of a future COVID-19 emergency order, and it also agreed to pay $20,000 toward attorneys’ fees for the pro-life organizations.
As a result of the settlement, ADF attorneys dismissed Mecklenburg County from the case.
The government can’t use a pandemic to justify silencing people because it doesn’t like their point of view. Even during a crisis, banning the First Amendment is not an option.
David tells the story of his arrest:
David talks with ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner:
ADF team members contributed to the writing and publication of this article.