A law in Ann Arbor could force a Democrat to write speeches for President Donald Trump or a pro-life artist to create a mural for Planned Parenthood.
On Tuesday, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit on behalf of a conservative political consulting firm, warning that an Ann Arbor non-discrimination law would force that firm to parrot liberal messages and help Democrats get elected. If they refuse, they could get hit with fines of $500 per day. ADF is representing Grant Strobl and Jacob Chludzinski, founders of the company ThinkRight Strategies.
“On the face of the law, it is illegal for Grant and Jacob to decline a request to promote, for example, a Democrat running for office or Planned Parenthood because that would be discrimination based on political beliefs under the law,” ADF Legal Counsel Samuel Green told PJ Media.
“Public accommodations laws across the country have been used to force people to express messages that violate their convictions,” Green added, referencing the cases of Christian baker Jack Phillips and Christian florist Barronelle Stutzman. Phillips and Stutzman gladly serve all people, including LGBT people, but they refused to use their artistic talents to celebrate a same-sex wedding, since they believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. State agencies in Colorado and Washington state ruled that they had discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation, but ADF rightly defended them as expressing their free speech.
“Grant and Jacob, like all of Alliance Defending Freedom’s clients, will work with people from all backgrounds. There are simply messages they cannot promote,” Green explained. “Everyone should be concerned when the government steps in and starts compelling people to advocate for views they oppose.”
“Ann Arbor’s law would force Grant and Jacob, who started a political consulting firm, to advocate for their conservative political beliefs, to advance political causes that they oppose,” he argued. “The government should never force people to express political causes that violate their convictions.”
The Ann Arbor non-discrimination law is extremely broad and open to abuse. The law defines a “place of public accommodation” to include any “business … whose goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations are extended, offered, sold or otherwise made available to the public.” Any such company is prohibited from discriminating on the basis of political beliefs.
“Ann Arbor’s law is quite broad,” the ADF lawyer noted. “It even prohibits Grant and Jacob from putting a statement on their website that they will only advance conservative beliefs and from having internal policies saying that.”
According to section 9:155, “No person shall adopt, enforce or employ any policy or requirement, publish, post or broadcast any advertisement, sign or notice which discriminates or indicates discrimination in providing housing, employment or public accommodations.”
While it might be defensible to prevent a company from posting a sign reading “no blacks allowed” or “no gays allowed” or “no conservatives allowed,” this law also prevents ThinkRight Strategies from posting a sign or even an online message reading, “ThinkRight Strategies advocates for conservative causes and will not promote liberal causes.”
Worse, section 9:156 even prohibits ThinkRight Strategies from having an internal policy restricting its services to conservative candidates or causes.
“No person shall adopt, enforce or employ any policy or requirement which has the effect of creating unequal opportunities according to … political beliefs … for an individual to obtain housing, employment or public accommodation, except for a bona fide business necessity. Such a necessity does not arise due to a mere inconvenience or because of suspected objection to such a person by neighbors, customers or other persons,” the law states.
“Regardless of where people stand on the political divide, all of them should be supporting Grant and Jacob in this lawsuit because people should be able to determine for themselves which political causes they promote,” Green said. “If Grant and Jacob were to post an explanation on their website of the political beliefs they can and cannot advance or to decline to write a speech for a Democrat’s campaign, they could face fines of up to $500 per day.”
Yet the non-discrimination law does not just threaten ThinkRight Strategies. “This law doesn’t just threaten Grant and Jacob, it threatens people of all political beliefs. It could be used to require a Democrat to write speeches for President Trump or a pacifist painter to paint pro-war murals. It could force a pro-life painter to produce a mural for Planned Parenthood.”
The ADF lawyer noted that Strobl and Chludzinski “have been active in politics since their childhood and ThinkRight Strategies is the next step for them to advance their beliefs. They’re concerned about this law that affects their liberty and the liberty of all Americans.”
“We’re hoping that the court will step in and protect everyone’s First Amendment freedoms to choose what positions they will advocate for,” Green said.
Every American has the right to act according to their conscience free from government-compelled speech. This case offers another chance for a court to prove that free speech is a fundamental American value.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.