The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with Charles Lindbergh's “Spirit of St. Louis” in the top left corner. Photo by Menachem Wecker.
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with Charles Lindbergh's “Spirit of St. Louis” in the top left corner. Photo by Menachem Wecker.
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Smithsonian rolls out unwelcome mat for pro-life students

Catholic students were booted from the National Air and Space Museum for donning pro-life hats.

Abort mission. Repeat. Abort mission.

That’s just about what National Air and Space Museum staff did on Jan. 27 when they allegedly mocked and cursed Catholic students who donned pro-life hats and then evicted them from the public museum, claiming it was a “neutral space.”

The group of 12-15 students and adults wore matching light-blue hats, which stated “Rosary Pro-Life.” That attire, which the school required as a safety protocol to help the group stick together, got them a one-way ticket out of the museum. Other visitors in the museum wore all sorts of hats, including ones decorated with pride flags, according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) which has taken up the case.

The group was in town from Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville, S.C. for the National March for Life in the district.

“Asking visitors to remove hats and clothing is not in keeping with our policy or protocols. We provided immediate training to prevent a re-occurrence of this kind of incident, and have determined steps to ensure this does not happen again,” the museum said in a statement, Fox News reported.

The museum does not appear to have issued a comment or apology on its social media handles.

“I’m very proud of these pro-life students for understanding their right to be in public spaces and for advocating for the existence of others,” Alison Centofante, a pro-life activist and consultant, told JNS.

“We should pray for the individual, who thinks Catholic students pursuing nonviolence in the world are in any way a problem,” added Centofante, who lived walking distance from the museum for 10 years. “I’m glad to hear the museum is working to ensure this does not happen again.”

The largest of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, Air and Space’s more than 8 million annual visitors make it one of the nation’s most visited. It houses artifacts like the 1903 Wright Flyer and the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia and receives some 70% of its funding from federal appropriations.

As part of the Smithsonian, it abides by a 2027 “shared future” strategic plan, which calls for “an inclusive, welcoming, and safe work environment in which everyone can bring their best to their work in service to the public.”

Whether it welcomes everyone, evidently, was subject to dispute last week.

Olivia Summers, senior litigation counsel at ACLJ, does not think the museum’s response is sufficient.

“This incident was a specific targeting of the pro-life message that the group had on their hats,” she told JNS. “Our clients originally thought that being told to remove their hats was a security measure, but quickly observed other people in the museum wearing a variety of hats—even ones of a political nature, such as pride flag hats.”

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Credit: Menachem Wecker/JNS

That five Smithsonian employees acted out of line with the institution’s policy suggests to Summers that the issue is “more than a lack of training, and is in line with a policy or training practice.”

ACLJ intends to pursue legal action. “The museum’s statement about corrective training is insufficient,” Summers said. “The Smithsonian is a government entity, and receives $1 billion of taxpayer-funded federal grants. It should be protecting the free speech and religious rights of the American people, not trampling on them.” ACLJ expects not only an apology but assurance that it will never happen again.

“This story is resonating with so many, who have deeply-held, conservative religious beliefs, because they have felt silenced and marginalized for so long,” Summers said. Many conservative people are tired of being told they have no right to speak, because their opinion differs from what the left wants to hear, she said.

“We are fighting against the bullying,” she added. “We have a right to share our religious beliefs, even if others don’t like them or agree with them.”

Jerry Pattengale, university professor at Indiana Wesleyan University and a widely published author and member of several boards, was one of the founders of Museum of the Bible, located two blocks south of the Air and Space Museum.

“It’s ironic in a place derived from the Greek word for ‘muse,’ that the attention here is atop kids’ heads instead of what’s inside of them,” Pattengale told JNS. “It appears administrators have already admitted this mistaken focus of a few staff members.”

Pattengale recalled visiting the Vatican Museums for an exhibit it hosted from Museum of the Bible. Both museums’ staffs accepted the variety of matching shirts and ballcaps, with a range of messages, from visitors. “Museums internationally seem to follow suit, which accents the seriousness of the current situation,” he said. “Perhaps being in D.C. magnifies the differences over the core issue.”

The controversy is sure to generate a lot of money for any entrepreneur who can quickly market pro-life beanies, according to Pattengale.

“I think the Smithsonian leaders will use this incident to help all groups feel welcome,” he said. “However many hats one has to wear in public service, the key is always putting it back on the same head.”

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