Opinion: Ann Arbor anti-discrimination law threatens freedom
Campaign season is quite tiresome. Political ads are everywhere. Frequent television debates. Social media outrage is non-stop. Division is everywhere.
But this is democracy at work. Better to fight it out with words on Twitter than with clubs in the street.
To be sure, we need more civility and tolerance in our political discourse. But the ballgame changes when the government starts compelling people to promote political beliefs they oppose. That’s not tolerance. It’s totalitarianism.
And it’s exactly what one law in Ann Arbor, Michigan, produces. And that warrants our attention — no matter where we live.
Updated in 2014, Ann Arbor’s law bans “public accommodations” — organizations that offer services to the general public — from discriminating on the basis of various classifications, including “political beliefs.”
But consider how this affects Grant Strobl and Jacob Chludzinski, two conservatives who recently started a political consulting firm in Ann Arbor called ThinkRight Strategies, LLC.
ThinkRight provides advocacy services for politicians and organizations — services like creating campaign websites for politicians, writing speeches for candidates, and crafting memorable slogans for advocacy campaigns.
They want to advocate certain views — conservative views they believe in. That is pretty typical for political consulting firms; some promote progressive causes, some conservative causes.
But under Ann Arbor’s law, because Strobl and Chludzinski will write campaign speeches for conservatives, they must be willing to write campaign speeches for socialists. Because they would create pro-life tweets for Michigan Right to Life, they must be willing to create pro-abortion tweets for Planned Parenthood. Anything else is illegal “discrimination” on the basis of “political beliefs.”
And the law inflicts much more than a slap on the wrist. More like $500 in fines per day for non-compliance. That makes it practically impossible for Grant and Jacob to run their business and promote the political positions they believe in. Imagine an America in which the government forces you to promote political causes you vehemently oppose.
That’s why this situation isn’t really about Strobl and Chludzinski’s conservative views. Ann Arbor’s law would also force a freelance writer who is a Democrat to write campaign speeches for President Trump. Or force a web designer who believes in gun control to create a website for the National Rifle Association. Under this law, everyone loses.
But we shouldn’t be surprised by Ann Arbor’s power grab. Colorado tried to use a law like Ann Arbor’s to compel Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop to create a custom cake celebrating a same-sex wedding. A county in Kentucky is trying to use a similar law to compel Blaine Adamson of Hands On Originals to print T-shirts promoting a gay pride festival. And Minnesota insists that it can use a similar law to force Carl and Angel Larsen of Telescope Media Group to produce films celebrating same-sex marriage.
These creative professionals are each willing to serve people from all backgrounds. They just can’t promote messages they disagree with. But under the guise of stopping “discrimination,” bureaucrats are using laws like Ann Arbor’s to stomp out differing viewpoints — forcing people to either convey views they oppose or give up their livelihood.
This should be troubling to everyone. Whether you agree with Jack Phillips’ views on marriage or not. Whether you agree with Strobl’s and Chludzinski’s political views or not. If the government can hijack their voices to stomp out their views, everyone’s freedom is at risk. Americans disagree about many issues, but we should all agree on our freedom to disagree. Ann Arbor is trying to take that fundamental freedom away.
Thankfully, Strobl and Chludzinski aren’t waiting around for Ann Arbor to start fining them. They’ve taken action, filing a lawsuit to challenge Ann Arbor’s blatantly unconstitutional law before it’s too late. Too late for their business and too late for freedom in Ann Arbor. Perhaps, even in the midst of our divisive politics, this is one campaign we can all get behind.
Jonathan Scruggs is senior counsel and director of the Center for Conscience Initiatives at Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents ThinkRight Strategies.