Freedom of association remains a bedrock constitutional principle. Unfortunately, some people apparently believe it applies only to those with a liberal bent.
In the week following the election, fashion designer Sophie Theallet penned and posted an open letter on Twitter, a portion of which read: “As one who celebrates and strives for diversity, individual freedom and respect for all lifestyles, I will not participate in dressing or associating in any way with the next first lady.”
Of course, that would be Melania Trump, wife of president-elect Donald Trump.
In response, Reason.com managing editor Stephanie Slade noted that Ms. Theallet designed and donated clothes for First Lady Michelle Obama. But the fact that the designer won’t do the same for Mrs. Trump doesn’t bother Ms. Slade, who writes that it’s an example of “associational freedom — the right to make decisions for yourself about how and with whom you spend your time and energy. This includes the right not to take on a client or project that elevates, in your view, a value you disagree with.”
Then, Ms. Slade identifies that crux of the matter. “The problem is,” she wrote, “just how many people don’t seem to think that same freedom should be extended to bakery owners, photographers, and other wedding vendors who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds.”
In her letter, Ms. Theallet wrote that, “We consider our voice an expression of our artistic and philosophical ideals.” But that same point apparently doesn’t hold up for the white-haired grandmother and owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Washington, a state that “worked to destroy [her] business unless she agrees to take part in a celebration to which she is morally opposed,” Ms. Slade points out.
Similar conflicts have cropped up around the country, including with an Oregon baker who was run out of business for refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding ceremony.
It may be impertinent to ask, but if Ms. Theallet has the right to refuse her services for the inaugural ceremony, why doesn’t an Oregon baker or a Washington florist enjoy that same freedom?