ThinkRight Strategies v. City of Ann Arbor
Description: Ann Arbor, Michigan, has a law that prohibits discrimination based on political beliefs. Grant Strobl and Jacob Chludzinski challenged the city's law, concerned that the city would force them and their company, ThinkRight Strategies, to promote political messages and causes that contradict their conservative and religious principles, just as similar laws across the country have been used to force cake artists and printing companies to promote messages they oppose.
Ann Arbor won't use law to force citizens to promote political views they oppose
Although the law applies to a wide range of businesses and nonprofits and imposes fines of up to $500 for each day a violation occurs, the city has officially clarified that it does not consider ThinkRight to be a place of public accommodation because its owners are selective about the messages the business conveys.
“Americans should be free to choose which political causes to promote,” said ADF Legal Counsel Samuel Green. “Ann Arbor has agreed that it won’t use this law to force Grant and Jacob to use their skills to promote causes they oppose, like abortion and socialism. Grant and Jacob will work with anyone when it advances their conservative beliefs, and we are pleased that the government will not force them to further messages or causes that undermine their values.”
Strobl and Chludzinski are both Christians and political conservatives who began advocating for their political beliefs during childhood. They recently launched a political consulting and marketing business to continue advancing their political values. But they were concerned that Ann Arbor’s law would force them to create and promote messages that contradict their beliefs, just as similar laws across the country have been used to force cake artists and printing companies to promote messages they opposed. Strobl and Chludzinski filed the lawsuit ThinkRight Strategies v. City of Ann Arbor with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, to ask it to rule that they can freely speak and advocate consistent with their beliefs.
The stipulated dismissal filed with the court confirms that Ann Arbor does not consider ThinkRight to be subject to its public accommodations law “because ThinkRight will only provide its services in ways that promote, or are not contrary to, its conservative political beliefs and therefore limits the platforms, views, policies, causes, events, or messages it will convey or promote through its goods and services.”
“The First Amendment protects people’s freedom to choose what to say and what to endorse, and Americans don’t have to wait to be punished to protect this freedom,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, director of the ADF Center for Conscience Initiatives. “The positive outcome here for Grant and Jacob underscores a core American principle: The government can’t force creative professionals to surrender free speech and religious freedoms in order to operate a business. We’re pleased that Ann Arbor quickly and clearly clarified the scope of its law to respect our clients’ freedoms protected by the First Amendment.”
Timothy W. Denney, one of nearly 3,400 attorneys allied with ADF, served as local counsel in the case for Strobl, Chludzinski, and their business.
- Pronunciation guide: Strobl (STROH’-bull), Chludzinski (clue-JIN’-ski)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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Jonathan Scruggs serves as senior counsel and vice president of litigation strategy and the Center for Conscience Initiatives with Alliance Defending Freedom. In this role, he identifies new litigation opportunities and develops new strategies for protecting free speech and religious liberty in collaboration with the chief legal counsel and litigation team directors. As the leader for the Center for Conscience Initiatives, Scruggs oversees the litigation team defending the rights of professionals and business owners to live out their faith as well as the litigation efforts to protect equal opportunities for women in athletics. Since joining ADF in 2006, Scruggs has worked on and prevailed in a variety of cases that protect the right of people to freely express their faith in their business, at school, and in the public square. He earned his J.D. at Harvard Law School and is admitted to practice in the states of Arizona and Tennessee. Scruggs is also admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court and multiple federal district and appellate courts.