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Five Reasons BuzzFeed Agrees With the Photographer, the Florist, and the Baker

By Jordan Lorence posted on:
October 17, 2017

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti’s recently announced his decision to pull out of an agreement to run Republican ads supporting Donald Trump for president. Why? Because of its corporate beliefs, BuzzFeed leadership decided it cannot in good conscience allow Mr. Trump’s ideas and candidacy to be promoted or advocated via content on its website.

Sound familiar? It should. BuzzFeed made the same conscientious choice that a number of small business owners represented by Alliance Defending Freedom have made: to decline to promote messages, create art, or participate in events that are counter to their deepest convictions.

Peretti sent an email June 6 to BuzzFeed staff, announcing that although it agreed to a $1.3 million deal with the Republican National Committee in April, the company would reverse and opt out of running “Trump for President” ads because it disagreed with Trump’s message:

“The tone and substance of his campaign are unique in the history of modern US politics. Trump advocates banning Muslims from travelling to the United States, he’s threatened to limit the free press, and made offensive statements toward women, immigrants, descendants of immigrants, and foreign nationals.”

BuzzFeed’s argument parallel what Elaine Huguenin, sued for declining to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, and Barronelle Stutzman, who referred long-time customers to alternative florists to decorate for their same-sex ceremony, and others like them, have been saying. 

Mollie Hemingway, writing Monday in The Federalist, offered five thoughts on BuzzFeed’s refusal “to bake the GOP’s pro-Trump advertising cake.”

I’d like to expand with five reasons why those who applaud a large media company’s corporate freedom of conscience must also celebrate the small family business owners – the photographer, the florist, the artists, and the cake baker – for their exercise of the same fundamental freedom.

  1. BuzzFeed profits by creating expression and ideas.  BuzzFeed is a for-profit corporation that makes its money selling expression and ideas. It expresses viewpoints that some people agree with, and others do not. Newspapers, television networks, radio stations, and news websites all make their money communicating ideas. They are free to publish the ones they agree with, not publish the ones they oppose, and aren’t forced to do otherwise. And expressive professions are not limited to media outlets. Web designers, advertising agencies, speech writers, campaign consultants, and even tattoo artists all express ideas – and make money – by their creative work. Their freedom to express – and their freedom to not express – the ideas they choose is fully protected under law.

  2. Owners of creative, expressive, and artistic businesses have core beliefs, and sometimes a customer can ask them to do something that crosses the line of the owner’s beliefs.  Owners of expressive businesses will inevitably face the situation of a customer asking them to promote or oppose an idea the owner disagrees with. The vegan website designer will likely say no to helping promote the state meatpackers association. The New Age environmentalist/pacifist who designs social media campaigns may say no to helping the fossil fuel companies or the National Rifle Association promote their respective messages. No different from what the photographer, the florist, and the baker are doing.

  3. Everyone understands that BuzzFeed disagrees with Donald Trump’s ideas, and that is not discriminating against Trump or his supporters as people. BuzzFeed does not agree with the ideas Trump advocates, so it is saying no to the ads that express those ideas. Is BuzzFeed full of bigotry and discriminating against Trump and his supporters? No. Same goes for the photographers, the florists, and the cake bakers.

  4. Other websites will happily carry Trump’s ads for $1.3 million.  Other websites will undoubtedly be happy to take the RNC’s $1.3 million and publish Trump ads. There is little chance that they will be unable to find an outlet to publish these ads. Likewise, a same-sex couple will have no problem finding another photographer, baker, or florist to do their message-based work. And they have. Every time. Some got multiple offers for free floral, photographic, and cake art. The creative professionals who opted out of helping to celebrate same-sex marriages no more prevented those couples from celebrating their own unions than BuzzFeed has prevented Donald Trump from celebrating his primary victories.

  5. Trump could sue BuzzFeed for discrimination, but that would violate the First Amendment.  Trump could sue BuzzFeed for discrimination in at least three places. The District of Columbia bans discrimination based on “actual or perceived political affiliation.” Puerto Rico prohibits denial of service because of “political issues.” Seattle bars conduct that “differentiate[s]” because of “political ideology.” And if that happened, BuzzFeed would rightly argue that these laws applied against it would violate its First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and of the press. That is exactly what the photographer, the florist, and the baker have argued in their cases: that these unjust laws and ordinances violate their fundamental freedoms.
Intellectual honesty demands that BuzzFeed support these small business owners for exercising the very freedoms on which this large media organization relies. And BuzzFeed should also consider that if the government can punish the baker, the florist, and the artists, it can punish BuzzFeed for the very same things.

Jordan Lorence

Jordan Lorence

Senior Counsel, Director of Strategic Engagement

Jordan Lorence serves as senior counsel and director of strategic engagement with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he plays a key role with the Strategic Relations and Training Team.

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