Oral Arguments Begin in SFLA’s Appeal of a First Amendment Complaint Against D.C. for Arrests of Pro-Life Students Chalking ‘Black Preborn Lives Matter’

Caroline Wharton - 28 Sep 2022

“The abortion lobby continues to shut down pro-life Americans’ free speech without regard to our First Amendment rights, which is viewpoint discrimination,” said Students for Life of America’s Kristan Hawkins. “However, believing that children shouldn’t be killed doesn’t make us second class citizens, and we will not stop fighting for our right to talk how the violence of abortion is ending too many black lives in the womb.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. (09-28-2022) – TODAY, Students for Life of America (SFLA) will be in court for arguments regarding legal action that began after two pro-life students were arrested after attempting to chalk “Black Preborn Lives Matter” in front of a D.C. Planned Parenthood. Oral arguments are taking place in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in the case Frederick Douglass Foundation, Inc.; Students for Life of America; William Cleveland; Robert L. Gurley, Jr.; and Angela Whittington v. District of Columbia; view SFLA’s earlier press release on the case HERE

SFLA President Kristan Hawkins discussed what spurred the initial lawsuit in a 2021 op-ed at Newsweek entitled “Black Preborn Lives Matter — And Americans Must Be Allowed to Say So,” writing: 

“Although the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is emblazoned in permanent paint on Washington D.C.’s streets by order of the D.C. government itself, the same local government has prohibited pro-life advocates from painting the message “Black Preborn Lives Matter” in temporary paint. The D.C. government even allowed protestors to paint “Defund the Police” right next to its own public speech. Participants in an August free speech event cohosted by Students for Life of America and the Frederick Douglass Foundation were not only prohibited by police to paint; two were arrested for chalking our message on the public sidewalk. 

“Our organization received a permit this week from the Metropolitan Police Department, which notes that while a few pro-life activists are allowed to meet this Saturday, they are ”not authorized or permitted to paint, chalk, or mark in any manner the street or sidewalk.” The forthcoming ruling will further unpack whether the government in Washington D.C. can engage in viewpoint discrimination, effectively censoring some opinions while giving protections to favored speech.” 

In the appeal of the dismissal, Students for Life’s attorneys noted that violent Black Lives Matter protestors were treated differently than peaceful pro-life students. 

As reported in the Washington Times when the appeal was filed: “The District of Columbia singled out Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life of America for discriminatory treatment based on their pro-life message,” said attorney Erin Hawley. “The Metropolitan Police Department turned a blind eye towards certain favored speech while shutting down pro-life speech with which it disagreed. This is the essence of viewpoint discrimination and selective enforcement in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments.”

To learn more about the Students for Life of America activists being arrested in D.C., read our 2020 press release on the incident HERE

For coverage from other outlets, read stories from the Washington PostNational Review, and the Washington Times

The three issues presented on this appeal include: 

  1. Whether the district court properly dismissed the plaintiffs’ Fifth Amendment protection claim or whether the District acted with a discriminatory motive 
  2. Whether the district court properly dismissed the plaintiffs’ First Amendment viewpoint discrimination claim and whether the plaintiffs failed to adequately allege that the District discriminated against them based on political disagreement
  3. Whether the district court properly determined that, in the alternative, plaintiffs did not adequately plead a municipal policy or practice necessary for the District to be held liable for any constitutional violation, where plaintiffs did not identify any theory of municipal liability or the involvement of a final District policy maker. 

For a live update on the oral arguments, watch a Facebook Live on Students for Life of America’s Facebook page later today by clicking HERE

For interviews, contact [email protected] 


Students for Life Action (SFLAction), a 501c4, along with its 501c3 sister organization, Students for Life of America (SFLA), make up the nation’s largest pro-life youth organization and a political and policy operation engaging people of all ages. Together they work to end abortion — the human rights issue of our day — and provide political, legal, and community support for women and their children, born and preborn. Headquartered in Fredericksburg, VA, SFLA has more than 1,300 groups on middlehigh school, college, university, medical, and law school campuses in all 50 states. SFLA creates strategy, policy, and programming to connect those most targeted for abortion with people ready to help and builds a framework for political engagement on their behalf. SFLA and SFLAction have more conversations with those most targeted by the abortion industry than any other pro-life outreach in the world, reaching more than 2 million people across social media platforms each week and engaging in approximately 100,000 digital conversations per month. Over more than 16 years, President Kristan Hawkins has grown SFLAction/SFLA into an $18 million organization preparing for a post-Roe America.  

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