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WATCH: How Washington, D.C. Violated the First Amendment

By Caroline Roberts posted on:
January 26, 2021

During the summer of 2020, the City of Washington, D.C. allowed various political messages to be painted on public sidewalks, including “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police.”

But that opportunity wasn’t extended to everyone.

Students for Life of America (SFLA) and the Frederick Douglass Foundation were barred from painting their message, “Black Pre-Born Lives Matter,” outside of a Planned Parenthood in D.C. By allowing some groups to paint their message on city streets and silencing others, Washington, D.C. discriminated against certain viewpoints—and violated the First Amendment.

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

It all began when SFLA and the Frederick Douglass Foundation applied for permission to rally and paint a mural expressing their message. But the city never responded to either group regarding the mural. Then, a Metropolitan Police Department officer told the members that they could paint the message in the street if they used tempera paint or chalk.

So, student members decided to chalk their message on the public sidewalk, only to find law enforcement officers waiting for them and threatening them with arrest.

You can watch their full story here:

In telling some groups that they can express their message publicly and other groups that they can’t, Washington, D.C. is effectively deciding which ideas they want to win and which ones they want to lose.

“The city shouldn’t be able to silence and punish us for expressing ideas that it doesn’t agree with,” said Frederick Douglass Foundation Virginia Chapter President J.R. Gurley. “Government officials can’t discriminate against peaceful displays on the basis of our beliefs about abortion when they have allowed other groups the same avenues to express their beliefs. If the mayor allows other messages to be painted and chalked, we should be able to express our views in the same manner without fear of unjust government punishment.”

Frederick Douglass declared in 1860 that “liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist.” He recognized how crucial the freedom of expression was; the answer to bad speech and injustice is not less speech, but more! Otherwise, how will our nation improve itself and learn from its mistakes?

We can only overcome injustice and grow as a country when we allow a variety of viewpoints to enter the marketplace of ideas and compete on a level playing field. And the government has a duty to uphold that freedom for all of its citizens—whether or not it agrees with them.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened in Washington, D.C.—which is why ADF stepped in. Free speech and civil discourse make our society better and stronger. And that is something worth defending.

To stand up for free speech and spread the word about this case, share the video today.

Caroline Roberts, Strategic Communications Writer

Caroline Roberts

Strategic Communications Writer

Caroline Roberts serves as a Strategic Communications Writer at Alliance Defending Freedom.


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