Young Politicos Take On a Compelled-Speech Law That Should Trouble Us All

 

It shouldn’t come as a shock that two conservatives opening a political consulting firm are only interested in promoting conservative ideas, campaigns, and candidates. What’s surprising—even alarming—is that Ann Arbor, MI, could fine the small firm $500 a day for doing so.

That may sound like something from a dystopian novel, but it’s actually at the center of a lawsuit filed by Grant Strobl and Jacob Chludzinski, founders of ThinkRight Strategies. A two-man shop, ThinkRight offers to provide advocacy services like campaign websites, slogans, speech writing, debate coaching, and more.

Yet, a law in Ann Arbor—where ThinkRight recently started—forbids even political consultants from doing what the law deems “discrimination” based on “political beliefs.”

If that sounds like a bizarre overreach, it’s only because it is.

Consider what that means from Grant’s perspective. A childhood illness piqued his interest in politics. Diagnosed with scoliosis, Grant’s doctor insisted he should see a surgeon about the painful condition. His mother, however, wanted to explore physical therapy first.

But Grant’s doctor would not be persuaded. At the time, Michigan law required a doctor’s referral to see a physical therapist. Without a doctor to sign off on the treatment, Grant and his mother had to look outside the state, taking regular trips to Wisconsin for his physical therapy appointments.

The approach worked, and Grant was able to avoid surgery. The experience also helped him see the real-life implications that laws can have. Soon, Grant and his mom were volunteering on a campaign for a Republican candidate who wished to reform the law that had forced them out of the state just to see a physical therapist.

That was just the beginning of Grant’s conservative advocacy. He went on to help other conservative politicians, found and lead chapters of a conservative group—Young Americans for Freedom—at his high school and college, and speak out in the local and national press for conservative ideals.

For Grant and Jacob (who, like Grant, is a committed Christian and political conservative who has spent years promoting his beliefs), it would be unthinkable to promote ideals in conflict with their own. Their skills and services aren’t just value-neutral commodities; they’re an expression of who they are to the core.

Despite all this, Ann Arbor’s law threatens to commandeer those skills and force ThinkRight to promote opposing political agendas or be fined out of business for noncompliance.

And the same law endangers others. Imagine a Democratic speechwriter based in Ann Arbor. If her business offers its services to Democrats like Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, she could be compelled by law to pen a rally script for President Trump the next time he visits the Wolverine State. This law is a nightmare-turned reality.

If the government can hijack Grant and Jacob’s voice, everyone’s freedom is at risk. Americans disagree about many political issues, but we should all agree on our freedom to disagree. Yet, Ann Arbor law threatens that fundamental freedom.

And Ann Arbor’s coercive law isn’t exactly an outlier. Across the country, we’ve seen government crusades to punish business owners who gladly serve everyone but cannot promote certain messages through their artistic design.

Creative professionals like Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, Arlene’s Flowers owner Barronelle Stutzman, and Hands On Originals owner Blaine Adamson—whose case goes before the Kentucky Supreme Court on Aug. 23—are just a sampling of the ever-growing list of victims created when governments apply these laws to strip freedom in favor of ideological conformity. These governments aren’t fostering civility; they’re destroying it, along with the hard-earned livelihood of peaceable citizens.

Americans should be free to choose for themselves which political positions they promote. That should go without saying. But Ann Arbor’s law is just one more example of why that freedom, though guaranteed under the First Amendment, can never be taken for granted.

Jay Hobbs (@hobbnobbin on Twitter) is deputy director of media communications for Alliance Defending Freedom

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  1. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Jay Hobbs:

    Yet, a law in Ann Arbor—where ThinkRight recently started—forbids even political consultants from doing what the law deems “discrimination” based on “political beliefs.”

    If that sounds like a bizarre overreach, it’s only because it is.

    This can’t be real . . . the implications are huge.  I’m surprised the law wasn’t challenged the first day after it was signed, given how the left is ready to challenge any law which reflects a conservative position.  Egad . . .

    • #1
  2. Misthiocracy secretly Member
    Misthiocracy secretly
    @Misthiocracy

    Banning discrimination on the grounds of “political beliefs” seemed pretty vague to me, so I looked up the actual text of the Ann Arbor ordinance to make sure that’s actually what it says.

    https://library.municode.com/mi/ann_arbor/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=TITIXPORE_CH112NSC

    Yup, that does indeed appear to be what it says.

    In fact, I think one could argue that the ordinance forbids electoral campaigning of any kind !

    “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.”

    When someone runs for office, what are they doing if not indicating that voters should discriminate against their opponent’s employment on the basis of political beliefs?

    • #2
  3. Misthiocracy secretly Member
    Misthiocracy secretly
    @Misthiocracy

    Somewhat off-topic, but the ordinance also includes a couple of interesting exceptions:

    Notwithstanding anything contained in this chapter, the following practices shall not be violations of this chapter.

    12. To restrict use of lavatories and locker room facilities on the basis of sex.

    14. To restrict participation in an instructional program, athletic event or on an athletic team on the basis of age or sex.

    Anybody wanna take bets on how long it’ll be before those two clauses are stricken from the ordinance?

    • #3
  4. Joshua Bissey Coolidge
    Joshua Bissey
    @TheSockMonkey

    Why do I get the feeling that law is very selectively enforced?

    We’re going to have to abandon the idea of forcing citizens to serve people they don’t want to serve, or do work they don’t want to do. And let them accept whatever consequences ensue.

    • #4
  5. David Carroll Thatcher
    David Carroll
    @DavidCarroll

    The law needs to be fixed, but I suppose it is a worthy outcome if, say, restaurants are forbidden from discriminated against the wearers of MAGA caps.

    • #5
  6. Jay Hobbs Contributor
    Jay Hobbs
    @Jay Hobbs

    David Carroll (View Comment):

    The law needs to be fixed, but I suppose it is a worthy outcome if, say, restaurants are forbidden from discriminated against the wearers of MAGA caps.

    Right. You’d imagine that was driving the intent when the law was put in there (actually in 2014 back in pre-MAGA days). A pretty good example of even good intentions going wrong when the government tries to fix one-off problems like that with a sweeping law.

    • #6
  7. Michael Brehm Coolidge
    Michael Brehm
    @MichaelBrehm

    I can’t be the only Machiavellian around here, can I? Does anyone else see the potential in consulting the opposition? Why I bet if one was clever and subtle enough you could consult them into all sorts of nasty entanglements that they wouldn’t have found themselves in otherwise. Don’t get your hands messy cutting someone’s throat when you can convince them to do the job for you.

    • #7
  8. David Carroll Thatcher
    David Carroll
    @DavidCarroll

    Jay Hobbs (View Comment):

    David Carroll (View Comment):

    The law needs to be fixed, but I suppose it is a worthy outcome if, say, restaurants are forbidden from discriminated against the wearers of MAGA caps.

    Right. You’d imagine that was driving the intent when the law was put in there (actually in 2014 back in pre-MAGA days). A pretty good example of even good intentions going wrong when the government tries to fix one-off problems like that with a sweeping law.

    The road to hell is paved….

    • #8
  9. Misthiocracy secretly Member
    Misthiocracy secretly
    @Misthiocracy

    David Carroll (View Comment):

    The law needs to be fixed, but I suppose it is a worthy outcome if, say, restaurants are forbidden from discriminated against the wearers of MAGA caps.

    The other side could easily try to argue that MAGA caps themselves violate the ordinance, because they are “notices” that “indicate discrimination”.

    • #9
  10. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Michael Brehm (View Comment):

    I can’t be the only Machiavellian around here, can I? Does anyone else see the potential in consulting the opposition? Why I bet if one was clever and subtle enough you could consult them into all sorts of nasty entanglements that they wouldn’t have found themselves in otherwise. Don’t get your hands messy cutting someone’s throat when you can convince them to do the job for you.

    Essentially what I believe the current crop of political advisors do to the right.

    • #10

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