Scott Demands Answers from Smithsonian Regarding Violation of South Carolina Students’ First Amendment Rights
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) joined Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in demanding answers from Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch regarding the 12 South Carolina pro-life students who faced harassment and expulsion by staff from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
In the letter, the Members wrote: “As a federal entity and the recipient of more than $1 billion in federal funds every year, there should be no debate as to whether the First Amendment applies to the Smithsonian. We are deeply concerned about this unjust expulsion of young Americans from museums—subsidized with taxpayer dollars—for wearing apparel that your staff disagreed with.”
Also signing the letter are Senators Scott (R-Fla.), Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Rubio (R-Fla.), Lee (R-Utah), Daines (R-Mont.), Lankford (R-Okla.), and Wicker (R-Miss.) and Representatives Roy (Texas-21), Brecheen (Okla.-2), Self (Texas-3), Duncan (S.C.-3), Cloud (Texas-27), Crenshaw (Texas-2), Miller (Ill.-15), Greene (Ga.-14), Moore (Ala.-2), Norman (S.C.-5), Luetkemeyer (Mo.-3), Lesko (Ariz.-8), Jackson (Texas-13), Perry (Pa.-10), Fry (S.C.-7), Luna (Fla.-13), Ogles (Tenn.-5), Stewart (Utah-2), Guest (Miss.-3), and Rose (Tenn.-6).
Background: On January 20th, 12 students from a Catholic school in Greenville, S.C. were in D.C. for March for Life. After the March, the students and their chaperones visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum wearing beanies that said “Rosary PRO-LIFE”. Reports indicate that museum staff mocked the students, cursed at them, and made comments that the museum was a “neutral zone” where they could not wear “political” attire. The students were then forced to leave the museum. A spokesperson for the Smithsonian later acknowledged that this incident had occurred and said that this was not in line with museum policy.
Click here to read the full letter.
Full text of the letter is below:
Lonnie G. Bunch III
PO Box 37012
SI Building, Room 153, MRC 010
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012
Dear Secretary Bunch,
On January 20, 2023, thousands of Americans from across the country traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the March for Life, an annual march dedicated to promoting the beauty and dignity of every human life by working to end abortion—uniting, educating, and mobilizing pro-life people in the public square. For many participants the occasion was inviting, warm, and educational.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for a group of pro-life Americans from South Carolina. Following the march, students from a Catholic school in Greenville, South Carolina were allegedly harassed by Smithsonian Institute employees at the Air and Space Museum for their pro-life and human rights affirming apparel and were expelled from the building.
According to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), “Once in the museum, [the students] were accosted several times and told they would be forced to leave unless they removed their pro-life hats. The group all wore the same blue hat that simply said, ‘Rosary PRO-LIFE.’ Other individuals in the museum were wearing hats of all kinds without issue” and “The museum staff mocked the students, called them expletives, and made comments that the museum was a ‘neutral zone’ where they could not express such statements.” 
As Members of Congress, we are unaware of any laws, rules, or regulations prohibiting members of the public from wearing pro-life hats inside Smithsonian office buildings. As a federal entity and the recipient of more than $1 billion in federal funds every year, there should be no debate as to whether the First Amendment applies to the Smithsonian. We are deeply concerned about this unjust expulsion of young Americans from museums—subsidized with taxpayer dollars—for wearing apparel that your staff disagreed with.
We request answers to the following questions by February 16, 2023. Please provide a separate response to each question below, rather than a narrative response.
- Were you made aware of the alleged incident said to have occurred on January 20, 2023?
- If so, when were you made aware of the incident?
- Has the Smithsonian conducted any internal investigations into the allegations?
- Please provide the names of the Smithsonian employees whose conduct is in question.
- What disciplinary action has the Smithsonian taken regarding this incident?
- If no action has been taken, please provide what course of action the Smithsonian plans on taking regarding this incident.
- Does the Smithsonian have any policy prohibiting pro-life sentiments from being expressed in its buildings or any policy deeming it a “neutral zone?”
- What efforts have you taken to ensure that the First Amendment rights of all Americans are respected at the Air and Space Museum and an incident like this never occurs again under your leadership?
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.