Federal Court Delivers Huge Free Speech Victory In DC

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court issued a ruling that gave a major victory to proponents of free speech in Washington, D.C. — holding officials accountable for “selectively” enforcing statutes against pro-life activists.

Amid the deadly George Floyd riots in the summer of 2020, Black Lives Matter activists flooded Washington, D.C. — covering the streets, sidewalks, and storefronts with paint and chalk. Even though the nation’s capital has a defacement ordinance, none of these activists were arrested.

However, pro-life activists were arrested around the same time for using chalk to write “Black Pre-Born Lives Matter” on a public sidewalk outside of a Washington, D.C., Planned Parenthood facility.

In an opinion penned by Judge Neomi Rao, the D.C. Circuit Court reversed a lower court’s decision and condemned Washington, D.C., officials for selectively enforcing the law.

“The government may not enforce the laws in a manner that picks winners and losers in public debates,” the opinion reads. “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,” the three-judge panel ruled.

“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,” the ruling continued.

The lawsuit was filed by the conservative Christian legal nonprofit group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of members of the Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life of America. The case was argued before the court by ADF Senior Counsel Erin Hawley, vice president of the ADF Center for Life and Regulatory Practice.

Hawley celebrated the ruling in a press release.

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

Students for Life of America also celebrated the decision, with the organization’s president Kristan Hawkins noting in a statement that “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.”