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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.