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Michigan city sued for allegedly forcing conservative group to promote liberal views

Michigan city sued for allegedly forcing conservative group to promote liberal views

Grant Strobl of ThinkRight Strategies giving remarks at the Young Americans for Freedom Reagan Ranch June Conference in 2018. | YouTube/YAFTV

A conservative political consulting firm has filed a lawsuit against a Michigan city for having an ordinance that it claims would force the firm to promote liberal viewpoints.

At issue was Chapter 112 of the City Code, which centers on non-discrimination policy and in 2014 was expanded to include the category of “political beliefs.”

Grant Strobl and Jacob Chludzinski of ThinkRight Strategies brought a lawsuit against the City of Ann Arbor on Monday in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

The lawsuit cited two parts of the city code they objected to. The first was Ann Arbor Code § 9:153, which says an individual cannot "discriminate in making available full and equal access to all goods, services, activities, privileges and accommodations of any place of public accommodation."

They also objected to Ann Arbor Code § 9:155(2), which states in part that a person cannot "discriminate in the publication or distribution of advertising material."

“Ann Arbor passed a law that forces Democrats to create advocacy material supporting conservatives and Republicans to create advocacy material supporting liberals under the threat of paying fines up to $500 per day,” read the lawsuit’s introduction.

“This lawsuit challenges Ann Arbor’s unjust law for violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments because all Americans, whether conservative or liberal, should have the freedom to advocate for the political views they believe in.”

ThinkRight Strategies is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative law firm that has successfully argued cases before the United States Supreme Court.

ADF Legal Counsel Samuel Green said in a statement released Tuesday that “Americans should be free to advocate for the political ideals they cherish.”

“Grant and Jacob created their business to advance their conservative political beliefs. But Ann Arbor’s law forces them to use their skills to promote political beliefs they oppose, like abortion and socialism,” said Green.

“This coercion is not just un-American—it’s unconstitutional. While Grant and Jacob will work with anyone when it advances conservative political goals, they cannot use their talents to promote messages or causes that undermine their values.”

In 1978, Ann Arbor became the first city in Michigan to enact a non-discrimination ordinance that included sexual orientation as a protected category. In the 1980s, the city added gender identity to the ordinance, becoming one of the first cities in the nation to do so.

In October 2014, Ann Arbor’s city council voted 10-0 to expand their anti-discrimination policy to include a host of new protected classes.

These included gender expression, veteran status, victims of domestic violence, genetic information, arrest record, family status, and political beliefs.

The new ordinance language had the support of multiple progressive groups, including the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Huron Valley Central Labor Council, and the Jim Toy Community Center. 

Council Member Christopher Taylor, a Democrat representing the 3rd Ward, told local news media that he believed the ordinance represented the community well.

“These changes, I believe, reflect Ann Arbor's values of openness and tolerance,” explained Taylor to The Ann Arbor News at the time. 

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