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Washington DC ‘selectively enforced’ ordinance against pro-life group while ignoring BLM protesters: Federal appeals court

  On Tuesday, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Washington, D.C., “ selectively enforced ” ...

 On Tuesday, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Washington, D.C., “selectively enforced” an ordinance against a group of pro-life activists while ignoring many similar offenses committed by Black Lives Matter protesters.

A lawsuit filed by Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of pro-life groups Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life of America was revived by a federal appeals court this week in a unanimous 3-0 opinion after a lower court judge previously dismissed the case in late 2021. 

In the summer of 2020, while BLM protesters were rioting in the streets in cities across the country, two pro-life activists were arrested in Washington, D.C., for writing “Black Pre-Born Lives Matter” in washable chalk on a public sidewalk.

The two individuals were apprehended during a pro-life rally, an event that had a permit to assemble. Additionally, the activists were given permission by a police officer to write their message on the street in chalk, the lawsuit stated. 

According to the pro-life groups, referred to as the Foundation in the lawsuit, protesters defacing public property with “Black Lives Matter” messages were not arrested for violating the ordinance.

The lawsuit against the city alleged that “the District discriminated on the basis of viewpoint by selectively enforcing the ordinance against those who chalked ‘Black Pre-Born Lives Matter,’ but not against those who painted, marked, and chalked’ Black Lives Matter.’” 

Trump-appointed Circuit Judge Neomi Rao found that the pro-life groups “plausibly alleged” that the city “discriminated on the basis of viewpoint in the selective enforcement of its defacement ordinance.”

“The District all but abandoned enforcement of the defacement ordinance during the Black Lives Matter protests, creating a de facto categorical exemption for individuals who marked ‘Black Lives Matter’ messages on public and private property,” Rao’s opinion stated.

In response to the court’s ruling, Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins stated, “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.”

“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,” Hawkins added.

Alliance Defending Freedom said it was “pleased” with the court’s opinion.

ADF senior counsel Erin Hawley stated, “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.”

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