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Serving Sarah Sanders

Sarah Sanders
Sarah Sanders
David Cole,
ACLU Legal Director
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June 26, 2018

A Virginia restaurant’s decision over the weekend to refuse to serve Sarah Huckabee Sanders has many conservatives rightly riled up. To turn away a paying customer because she is Donald Trump’s press secretary flouts not only rules of civility, but an essential premise of an open society: that public spaces and public businesses should be open to all. But being uncivil or rude is not illegal. And those objecting to the Red Hen’s treatment of Sanders, many of them conservatives who identify with her and feel her pain, should consider the implications of their reactions for the much more common, harmful, and illegal phenomenon of businesses refusing to serve gay and lesbian couples seeking cakes and other services to celebrate their weddings.

Public-accommodation laws are designed to ensure that everyone has equal status in the public sphere. A democratic society is premised on the equal dignity of all its citizens, and public spaces are public precisely by virtue of their not being exclusive. In private arenas, we can and do make choices about whom we invite and serve. But once one chooses to operate a business open to the public, one takes on at least a moral — and often a legal — obligation to adhere to the norms that underlie the very definition of “public.” When a business turns away a customer, whether it’s the Red Hen refusing service to Sanders, or Masterpiece Cakeshop refusing service to Charlie Craig and David Mullins, it says, “You aren’t a legitimate member of the public.”

Read the full article at The Nation.

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