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 he and his pro-life organization Cities4Life were peacefully praying outside an abortion facility this past April. Authorities claimed they were violating a statewide order to stop the spread of coronavirus just by standing there—even though the abortion facility was open and operating as usual.
So, why was it “worth it?” Because that morning two lives were saved.
Read more about this case below.
Who: David Benham and Cities4Life
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,” said 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.”
On the morning of April 4, Cities4Life volunteers were standing peacefully 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 less than 10 and maintained a distance of six feet from each other. It also didn’t matter that Cities4Life was deemed an “essential service” by the state 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.
And it was.
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 Cities4Life advocates were arrested by police while the abortion facility they were standing outside of was allowed to continue its activities uninhibited. David says 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.”
When: April 2020—Present
On April 9, 2020, Alliance Defending Freedom sent a demand letter to the City of Charlotte on David’s behalf. And on April 18, 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.
Where: Charlotte, North Carolina
Cities4Life is an organization in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Why: To Protect the Free Speech of Pro-Life Sidewalk Advocates
This is far from the first time that government officials have violated the free speech rights of pro-life advocates. ADF has been involved with many cases, including the U.S. Supreme Court victory McCullen v. Coakley, which involved authorities treating pro-life advocates differently than everyone else, simply because the authorities disagreed with their views.
The government can’t use a pandemic to justify silencing people because it doesn’t like their point of view.
It is easy to read about this case and become discouraged. But David’s story also shows us how God works through these difficult situations and why pro-life witnesses are so important.
Because the Cities4Life volunteers were present in front of that abortion clinic that morning, two lives were saved.
“When [the police] were walking me to the squad car, there was a mother in the mobile ultrasound unit that was getting a free sonogram. Her name was Reena,” recounted David. “Reena decided because of that free ultrasound when she saw her baby, she chose life.”
After that, one of the sidewalk counselors mentored Reena, helping her through her pregnancy. Cities4Life also helped provide the material resources she needed. Reena was one of two women who chose life outside of that abortion facility.
This would not have happened if Cities4Life advocates had stayed home and had not exercised their right to free speech.
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