Federal Appeals Court Says D.C. ‘Selectively’ Enforced Law to Arrest Pro-Lifers but Not BLM Protesters

 August 17, 2023

On Tuesday, A federal appeals court delivered a major free speech victory, ruling that Washington, D.C., officials “selectively” enforced a statute to arrest pro-life activists, but not Black Lives Matter protesters, back in 2020.

Thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters flooded D.C. in the summer of 2020, over several weeks, covering the sidewalks, storefronts and streets, with paint and chalk. While this behavior violated the District’s ordinance on defacement, no protesters were arrested.

However, in a selective manner district police officers were quick to arrest two pro-life advocates, in a smaller protest for chalking “Black Pre-Born Lives Matter” on a public sidewalk outside of a D.C. Planned Parenthood facility.

Reportedly, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) had filed the lawsuit on behalf of members of the Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life of America. Vice president of the ADF Center for Life and Regulatory Practice, ADF Senior Counsel Erin Hawley, argued before the court on behalf of the pro-life organizations. Hawley said-

“Every American deserves for their voice to be heard as they engage in important cultural and             political issues of the day.”

-ADF Senior Counsel Erin Hawley

Now three years later, after a review of the lower courts ruling on the matter, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion penned by Judge Neomi Rao, reversed the lower court’s decision. The Three judge panel ruled-

 “The government may not enforce the laws in a manner that picks winners and losers in public debates,” …”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.”…“The First Amendment prohibits discrimination on the basis of viewpoint irrespective of the government’s motive,”

“We hold the Foundation has plausibly alleged the District discriminated on the basis of viewpoint in the selective enforcement of its defacement ordinance. We therefore reverse the dismissal of the Foundation’s First Amendment claim and remand for further proceedings”.

“Washington officials can’t censor messages they disagree with. The right to free speech is for everyone, and we’re pleased the D.C. Circuit agreed that the Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life should be able to exercise their constitutionally protected freedom to peacefully share their views the same as anyone else.”

-D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals

Virginia Chapter President J.R. Gurley of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, issued a statement hailing the court’s decision. Gurley said-

“The city shouldn’t allow some groups to participate in the public forum and shun others from doing so just because city officials disagree with their viewpoint,” …“The First Amendment protects our right to peacefully share our pro-life message in Washington, D.C. without fear of unjust government punishment and thankfully, the D.C. Circuit agreed.”

-President J.R. Gurley of the Frederick Douglass Foundation

Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins, also celebrated the decision nothing that-

“free speech rights you’re afraid to use don’t really exist.”…“It’s very encouraging that there was a unanimous 3-0 decision in favor of the free speech rights of pro-life students, peacefully protesting in our nation’s capital,” and ….Viewpoint discrimination is un-American, and, as the case proceeds, we look forward to learning more about how D.C. officials picked winners and losers in their enforcement. Free speech rights you’re afraid to use don’t really exist, and we will keep fighting for the rights of our students to stand up for the preborn and their mothers, and against the predatory abortion industry led by Planned Parenthood”.

-Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins

"Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech."

-Benjamin Franklin.

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