Victory for Free Speech — Appeals Court Rules in Pro-Life Groups’ Favor Against D.C.

During the summer of 2020, leftists rioted in the streets and destroyed property. Some city governments even allowed “Black Lives Matter” protestors to violate city ordinances and deface property with graffiti.

In June 2020, Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C., commissioned a “Black Lives Matter” message in permanent yellow paint on 16th Street. She even participated. She was there when BLM protestors added “Defund the Police” to the message.

In August 2020, members of the pro-life Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life of America (SFLA) decided to follow suit and create a message for their cause. They applied for a permit to paint on the sidewalk outside Planned Parenthood and complied with the police department’s request to use temporary paint.

When the pro-lifers arrived to paint their message, however, the police told them they’d be arrested in they did. The group asked if they could use chalk. The police said no, but the group used chalk to write “Black Preborn Lives Matter” on the sidewalk anyway. The police arrested them and charged them with defacing public or private property.

Two messages, two different standards. One side seeks to protect, the other seeks to destroy.

The Frederick Douglass Foundation and SFLA filed a lawsuit against the city on free speech grounds. They lost in the lower court. Their legal counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom, announced that a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled in their favor.

“The government may not enforce the laws in a manner that picks winners and losers in public debates,” the court wrote (PDF). “It would undermine the First Amendment’s protections for free speech if the government could enact a content-neutral law and then discriminate against disfavored viewpoints under the cover of prosecutorial discretion.”

Dean Nelson, chairman of the Frederick Douglas Foundation, is pleased with the decision.

“I am grateful to the U.S. Court of Appeals for acknowledging and upholding our First Amendment right to free speech and sending a message that viewpoint discrimination will not be tolerated,” he said in a statement. “Unlike the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protestors, the two pro-life advocates who were arrested did not cause any damage to public property—it was their viewpoint that was deemed politically unacceptable. Viewpoint discrimination is a violation of the First Amendment and we are thankful that the U. S. Court of Appeals agreed with us.”

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