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SCRUGGS: New Ann Arbor, Michigan Law Violates The First Amendment

By  Jonathan Scruggs

Imagine an on-fire progressive named Amy decides to pursue her dreams and start a company that writes speeches for progressive politicians and non-profits. Her goal is simple: Use her talents to help promote the policies she believes in and lives by. But just three weeks after the company launch, a local politician asks her to write an Independence Day speech endorsing Donald Trump.

What should she do? Easy answer, right. No way would Amy do that.

But what if a local law required her to write that speech? What if a law forced Amy to use her talents to advocate for the very ideas she detests most? And what if that law fined Amy $500 per day until she submitted the speech?

Impossible? Too far-fetched? Well, it’s happening in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Two conservatives, Grant Strobl and Jacob Chludzinski, recently started a political consulting firm called ThinkRight Strategies LLC. ThinkRight offers to do things like write speeches and draft Facebook posts that support conservative positions. But an Ann Arbor law forbids public accommodations (entities like businesses that serve the public) from “discriminating” on the basis of political beliefs. And that means ThinkRight cannot legally decline to create material supporting progressive causes. That would be illegal “discrimination.” And the law fines violators up to $500 per day until they comply.

But Ann Arbor’s law doesn’t just affect conservatives. Under this law, a Jewish speechwriter who offers her services publicly cannot decline to write a speech advocating for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against Israel. A pro-abortion consultant cannot decline to design fliers criticizing abortion on behalf of pro-life political candidates. A progressive writer cannot refuse to praise President Trump’s immigration policies in a speech.

That’s not just wrong. It’s egregious. No one should be forced to express a message she disagrees with as the price of earning a living.

Public accommodation laws exist to make sure no one gets kicked out of a restaurant because of sex — or barred from a hotel because of race. These laws exist to combat actual status discrimination. They were never meant to compel people to promote positions with which they disagree.

When these laws start requiring that, they’re no longer combatting discrimination. They’re mandating certain views — and punishing people who believe differently than do those in power.

This hurts everybody. Once the government has this kind of power, no one’s beliefs are safe; just because a view is allowed today, what’s to stop the government from switching its target tomorrow? The only way to preserve our freedom to live and work in accordance with our deepest convictions is to advocate for that freedom for everybody.

Unfortunately, Ann Arbor isn’t the only government trying to force people to express beliefs with which they disagree.

In Colorado, cake artist Jack Phillips lost all of his wedding business — over 40% of his annual revenue — because the government tried to force him to violate his conscience and design a wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage. In Phoenix, Arizona, calligrapher Joanna Duka and painter Breana Koski face up to six months in jail because they can’t handcraft wedding vows that celebrate same-sex marriage. And in Minnesota, filmmakers Carl and Angel Larsen also face jail time because they can’t produce films celebrating same-sex weddings.

All these artists serve people in the LGBT community. They just can’t promote certain messages. Just like a LGBT web designer who generally serves Muslims but can’t create a website for a Muslim client that criticizes same-sex marriage, these other artists can’t covey certain messages with which they disagree. None of this is discrimination. It’s called diversity. It’s the freedom to disagree with each other — yet still treat each other with dignity and respect.

If the government can force cake designers, calligraphers, and filmmakers to convey messages with which they disagree, nothing stops it from forcing a progressive speechwriter to pen a pro-Trump paean she detests.

So the truth at the center of Grant and Jacob’s lawsuit, ThinkRight Strategies LLC v. City of Ann Arbor, goes deeper than political or ideological disagreements. It goes to the core freedoms we all share — our freedom of conscience, our freedom to live and work consistent with our deepest beliefs, and our freedom to disagree. When these freedoms get taken from one of us, we all lose. Let’s hope these freedoms have not yet disappeared in Ann Arbor — for everyone’s sake.

Jonathan Scruggs is senior counsel and director of the Center for Conscience Initiatives at Alliance Defending Freedom (@Alliance Defends), which represents ThinkRight Strategies.

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  11. Michigan
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