One common misconception that I have long since given up trying to correct is that constitutionally guaranteed free speech means that others must provide you a platform from which to spout your views. It does not. You have a right to say what you want; I have a right to tell you that you cannot do so from my lawn. You are responsible for disseminating your views, not me.
So, at a high level, I don’t have a problem with Starbucks’ refusal to print the phrase “Laissez-faire” on their customized gift cards. They are, after all, a private enterprise, and are most definitely not a common carrier—not even of coffee.
Yet I find myself incredibly irritated at Starbucks’ refusal to be honest about what they’re doing. Starbucks claims that they will not print the phrase “Laissez-faire” because of its political message, despite the Wall Street Journal’s clear proof that they will happily print political messages—just not that one. Starbucks should have the guts to explain and defend its own policy. Claiming nonpartisanship while censoring one particular political ideology is dishonest and hypocritical.
I’m reminded of something that happened when I was a freshman at Duke. AQUA Duke, which was the LGBT alliance at the time, painted slogans all over a train bridge that crosses Campus Drive. Some of the more conservative students found the slogans offensive and argued that they should be taken down. The bulk of the student body promptly screamed bloody murder, argued vehemently that the university needed to protected freedom of speech, and demanded that the slogans be allowed to stay. The administration agreed: the university must foster freedom of speech, even when that speech offends some students, in order to encourage free academic discussion. Duke therefore allowed the slogans to stay.
Later that week, two locals came and began preaching fire and brimstone from on top of an actual soapbox on West Campus. They stood and read choice portions of the Bible and told us we were all going to hell. Though the preachers were definitely loudmouthed bigots, they were also calm, orderly, and peaceful, and were actually spawning quite the dialog on the main quad, as many students took the time to let the preachers know what students thought of their message. Had the university actually believed in freedom of speech, these fellows ought to have been allowed to stay. Instead, after about forty-five minutes, university police escorted them off campus. No students protested that their freedom of speech had been abrogated; the only discussion of the event was a short blurb in the Chronicle the next day.
Duke was definitely legally and ethically clear to allow AQUA Duke to decorate the bridge, and to evict the preachers from campus. But to claim that the university protected the former due to free speech, while evicting the latter for what they were preaching, is intellectually dishonest. Duke had—and likely still has—a policy of selective censorship. It should have admitted as much and defended the policy.
I don’t care if Starbucks wants to follow a liberal-politics-only rule for their gift cards. I just think that they should be up-front about what they’re doing and accept the consequences. Anything less is dishonest.