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Court: Washington, DC punished pro-life sidewalk art, not Black Lives Matter

The city of Washington, D.C., wrongly penalized pro-life advocates who drew on a sidewalk while showing leniency to Black Lives Matter protestors for defacement offenses, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

“In the summer of 2020, thousands of protesters flooded the streets of the district to proclaim ‘Black Lives Matter,’” the court wrote in its decision. “Over several weeks, the protesters covered streets, sidewalks and storefronts with paint and chalk. The markings were ubiquitous and in open violation of the district’s defacement ordinance, yet none of the protesters were arrested.

“During the same summer, district police officers arrested two pro-life advocates in a smaller protest for chalking ‘Black Pre-Born Lives Matter’ on a public sidewalk. The organizers of the smaller protest, the Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life of America, sued.”

The lawsuit, filed in November 2020 by Alliance Defending Freedom, alleged that D.C. police discriminated against the pro-life groups by prohibiting them from chalking messages on the sidewalk. BLM protesters were permitted to chalk their own messages without punishment during the summer riots following the murder of George Floyd, the lawsuit argued. The plaintiffs accused the city of applying a double standard with selective enforcement and stifling their free speech.

“The District of Columbia, like many American jurisdictions, prohibits the defacement of public property,” the suit said. “While such laws are intended to prohibit criminal activity, they may not be used as a tool to silence disfavored speech. But this is precisely what the district and the defendants have done.”

The federal appeals court reversed a lower district’s court rejection of the lawsuit, agreeing with the plaintiffs that they were treated unfairly by local police in their enforcement of defacement laws.

“The First Amendment prohibits discrimination on the basis of viewpoint irrespective of the government’s motive,” the court wrote. “We hold the foundation has plausibly alleged the district discriminated on the basis of viewpoint in the selective enforcement of its defacement ordinance.”

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice

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