Jim Campbell is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which is providing legal representation for Blaine Adamson, Lorie Smith and Carl Larsen.
Many business professionals yearn to live an authentic life — to conduct themselves according to the principles they hold dear. With the election of Donald Trump, this desire for genuine authenticity has swept through the fashion industry. As a recent Post column noted, a number of famous designers have refused to dress Melania and Ivanka Trump because they abhor the president-elect’s policies and practices.
As Robin Givhan explained in that column, these artists view fashion as their “tool for communicating [their] world vision . . . in the same way that a poet’s words or a musician’s lyrics are a deeply personal reflection of the person who wrote them.” In their minds, designing dresses for a member of the Trump family would express approval of the president-elect’s politics.
“As for those designers for whom fashion serves as their voice in the world,” Givhan concluded, “they should not feel obligated to say something in which they do not believe.” Well said. No one should be forced to violate his or her conscience by saying something that conflicts with his or her core convictions.
That same respect for freedom — and the right to live with authenticity — must apply to other artistic professionals, too. That includes people such as Blaine Adamson, a printer in Kentucky who objected to the messages on a promotional item he was asked to create for a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pride festival. It also belongs to Lorie Smith, a graphic designer in Colorado who declines to build wedding websites that express ideas in conflict with her views about marriage, and Carl Larsen, a filmmaker in Minnesota who does not wished to be forced to tell the story of certain religious events (like same-sex weddings) that are at odds with his beliefs.
If fashion designers can say no to the first lady, then Adamson, Smith and Larsen must also be allowed to decline to communicate messages that they consider objectionable. A number of now-pending lawsuits will soon decide the rights of these other professionals. So far, a court has ruled only in Adamson’s case, finding that he may follow his conscience and decline to print a shirt promoting a gay pride festival. But that ruling is on appeal.
The similarities between the fashion designers’ stance and that of the other professionals is impossible to ignore. They all share a deep conviction about their need to live authentically. They feel so strongly about this that they are willing to endure great cost to do so.
For example, by declining to create the first lady’s Inauguration Day dress, Givhan observed, fashion designers are forfeiting the chance to be “instantly written into the history books,” to become a part of fashion lore. Adamson, Smith and Larsen also face stiff costs for their stand: potential loss of all or some of their businesses; calls for boycotts of their companies; streams of hate mail; and, in Larsen’s case, up to 90 days in jail.
For all these folks, conviction and courage come first. They refuse to betray who they are and what they believe to their core. For that, they deserve our admiration — and our emulation.
Despite this similarity and others, there is at least one notable difference between the fashion designers’ opposition to the Trumps and Adamson’s, Smith’s and Larsen’s unwillingness to express certain messages: The designers’ objections are tinged with animosity toward the people whom they refuse to serve. As Givhan said, they object to merely associating with Donald Trump or the female members of his family. And these fashion moguls seemingly won’t design any clothes for the Trumps, regardless of the event that they’re for.
In contrast, Adamson, Smith and Larsen serve all people, regardless of their political views, race, sex or sexual orientation. What they can’t do, however, is speak all messages. So while they’ll gladly express certain messages for all people, there are some messages that they can’t speak for anyone.
These convictions erect no categorical bar for — and evince no spite toward — any person or class of people. Rather, they reflect these professionals’ genuine concern with preserving their expressive integrity — their unwillingness to lend their voice to a cause that they cannot in conscience support.
The recent media coverage of these fashion designers reminds us of our nation’s abiding respect for conscience rights and the freedom to live with authenticity. Amid the political rancor that surrounds the new Trump presidency, those freedoms are something that we all should be able to rally around.