On the Perils of Using Restaurants and Other Public Venues as Protest Fora

Even if One CAN Protest Where and How One Wishes, That Doesn’t Necessarily Mean One SHOULD Do So

By Ken K. Gourdin

After the proprietor of Lexington, Virginia’s Red Hen Restaurant informed White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that she did not wish to serve members of the administration of President Donald J. Trump due to disagreement with the president’s policies, one might be forgiven for wondering whether we live in a topsy-turvy world in which right is left, left is right, up is down, and down is up. (Ironically, Lexington is something of a bastion of blue in an otherwise-heavily-red state.)

On the one hand, at universities—which are supposed to be bastions of free thought and free speech and where the antidote for speech with which one disagrees, rather than preventing anyone from speaking, is . . . more speech—students (along with not a few faculty members) and others demonstrate to hound the people with whom they disagree off of campus.

On the other hand, places where (while they may be public accommodations) are not public fora, private establishments where customers and patrons (whatever customers’ and patrons’ political leanings might be) it might be expected that one might be allowed to enjoy a meal, a movie, a performance, or another event unmolested, have been turned into venues for demonstration and protest when patrons wish to vent frustrations and vocalize disagreement with people with whom they disagree.

Owners or managers of such venues may say, “Of course, by all means, I want people to be able to protest people with whom they disagree, and causes or stances about which they disagree, at my establishment, because I feel the same way about those people, those causes, and those stances, and I feel so strongly about my positions that I don’t care whether it creates an inhospitable environment for any other patron or patrons.”

Okay. As the owner or manager of such a venue, I suppose you have the right to disregard the fact that allowing such things to take place on your premises may create an inhospitable environment for your patrons even if they happen to agree with protesters. Do you still have the right to ban any protests with which you disagree and any protesters with whom you disagree? Yes.

But, notwithstanding the fact that you may permit people to protest on your premises (thereby disturbing your other patrons), if I were you, while people who disagree with what you permit and with what you prohibit still must respect your wishes, I do suspect that many will be less persuaded by any future argument you might make that your premises are a [fill-in-the-blank here: restaurant, theater, et cetera] and not a protest venue.

That’s why restaurants should be primarily for eating; movie theaters should be primarily for watching movies; other performance venues should be primarily for such performances; and so on. Allowing such venues regularly to be used for things other than their primary purpose (such as protests) may portend a slippery slope.

I’ve written in defense of Free Speech and of the First Amendment elsewhere on the Blog. For example, I wouldn’t burn (or otherwise mistreat) a United States flag in protest, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think anybody else should be prohibited from doing so. See the following address: https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/a-perhaps-incongruous-post-on-flag-burning-in-honor-of-flag-day/.

That said, just because no one prevents someone from protesting at a certain time and in a certain place doesn’t mean that the protest is a good idea, particularly not in the current hyper-politicized, hyper-polarized, very heated political and social environment. Civility counts. You’re welcome to disagree with me, all the more so if you do so civilly and substantively, using effective rhetoric and sound logic. Alas, those four characteristics seem to be in short supply in public discourse these days.

In any event, at the very least, perhaps you should consider whether allowing your premises to be turned into a protest venue solves any problems or whether, actually, such an allowance creates an even bigger one: Already, there is more than enough divisiveness, heated rhetoric, demonization, and marginalization in the current sociopolitical climate. Do we really need more of these things?

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About kenngo1969

Just as others must breathe to live, I must write. I have been writing creatively almost ever since I learned to write, period! I have written fiction, book- and article-length nonfiction, award-winning poetry, news, sports, features, and op-eds. I hope, one day, to write some motivational nonfiction, a decent-selling novel, a stage play, and a screen play.
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