Jan 27, 2010
While visiting the National Gallery of Art this past Saturday, I ran into a pair of errant security guards who have taken to interpreting the Constitution in their spare time.
I decided to visit the Gallery after attending the March for Life the day before. There was an exhibit on processes of photography before the digital age that I hoped would confirm me in my refusal to give up on film. After searching my bag, the two guards at the Gallery told me, “You’re good to go in, but first you need to remove that pro-life pin.” He was indicating the small lime green pin with the message “impact73.org” and the silhouette of a small hand inside that of a larger hand that I had attached to the lapel of my coat. The pin, they informed me, was a “religious symbol” and a symbol of a particular political cause and it could not be worn inside a federal building. Why, I asked, can I not wear a religious or political symbol inside a federal building? Bringing to bear the full weight of the supreme law of the land, the guards informed that it was a violation of the First Amendment of the United States’ Constitution: The combination of me, wearing a pro-life pin, in a federal building was a violation of the separation of church and state.
Skeptical that the National Gallery of Art conducts its daily operations under a deviant reading of the U.S. Constitution, I asked where I might find the Gallery’s written policy on this matter. The guards told me that I was not allowed to see the Gallery’s rules. There is no mention in the museum policies found on the Galleries website of any restriction on attire when visiting the Gallery.
Nor is there any mention of the prohibition of the expression of free speech by wearing religious or political symbols in title 40 section 6303 of the U.S. code which gives a list of illegal activities at the National Gallery of Art as well as the Smithsonian Institution and the J.F.K. Center for the Performing Arts. the rest