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Not All Messages Are Welcome on D.C. Streets—Only Those the Mayor Favors

By Sarah Kramer posted on:
November 18, 2020

During significant protest activity in Washington, D.C. in June, two murals appeared on the streets of the city in bright yellow, permanent paint. One proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” and the other “Defund the Police.” The first was commissioned by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. 

This gave the Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life of America an idea.

These two organizations decided to paint a similar mural—in an identical style—outside of a Planned Parenthood facility in D.C. This mural was to read, “Black Pre-Born Lives Matter,” pointing out the fact that Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry kill thousands of unborn African-American children every year. And they planned a rally in August to do just that. 

Before their rally, these two groups received a permit for the assembly as well as verbal confirmation from a police officer that they would be able to paint their message on the street. 

But when the rally participants arrived, they were greeted by several police cars and a group of law enforcement officers. These officers informed them that if they wrote their message on the street or even on the public sidewalk, they would be arrested. 

When two students started to draw this message on the public walkway in washable sidewalk chalk, they were immediately arrested. They weren’t even able to finish writing the intended message. 

students chalk pro-life message on Washington, D.C. sidewalk

 

This is unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. The city cannot allow some messages to be permanently painted on their streets and then deny other groups the same right just because it doesn’t like their message. 

That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit today against the city on behalf of the Frederick Douglass Foundation. 

The Frederick Douglass Foundation and SFLA wanted to paint their message in exactly the same manner that the “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police” messages were painted. Yet, they were stopped and told that their actions would be considered the “defacement of public property.” 

And while such laws are well-intentioned—meant to prohibit criminal activity—they cannot be used as a tool to silence disfavored speech. But that is exactly what is happening here. 

Why is one yellow-painted message considered defacement of public property while two other yellow-painted messages are allowed—and one even commissioned—by the D.C. mayor? 

The answer is simple: the government favors these two messages over the message “Black Pre-Born Lives Matter.” 

Every individual and organization should be able to peacefully express their beliefs, but the District is picking winners and silencing those who hold views it doesn’t like. 

That’s unconstitutional. 

And that’s why ADF is stepping in. The government can’t pick winners and losers when it comes to free speech. It has a duty to uphold that freedom for all of its citizens—whether or not it agrees with them.

After all, if the government can choose which messages can be expressed and which cannot, then we don’t really have the freedom of speech. And that should concern us all. 

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Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


Sarah Kramer

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.


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