A Manhattan judge ruled this week that bars in the city can refuse service to Trump supporters. On the surface this seems to be unjust, but conservatives and constitutionalists should applaud the ruling, which follows the law and small government principles.
It all started in January 2017 when Greg Piatek, a 30-year-old accountant from Philadelphia wore his red “Make America Great Again” cap to The Happiest Hour, a New York City watering hole. Piatek says The Happiest Hour staff was not happy with his headgear and eventually forced him to leave.
The New York Post reported that bartenders noticed the hat after Piatek and his friends had been served the first round of drinks. Piatek says they asked if the hat was a joke and when he was finally able to order a second round, the bartender allegedly “slammed the drinks down.” Piatek claims that the other bartenders ridiculed his hat and refused to serve him and that, when he complained about the service, the manager told him, “Anyone who supports Trump or believes what you believe is not welcome here. And you need to leave right now because we won’t serve you.”
Piatek sued the bar claiming that the incident “offended his sense of being American,” per the Post. Piatek’s lawyer, Paul Liggieri, also claimed that the MAGA hat had religious significance.
“The purpose of the hat is that he wore it because he was visiting the 9/11 Memorial,” Liggieri said. “He was paying spiritual tribute to the victims of 9/11. The Make American Great Again hat was part of his spiritual belief. Rather than remove his hat, instead he held true to his spiritual belief and was forced from the bar.”
“Plaintiff does not state any faith-based principle to which the hat relates,” the judge ruled. “Here the claim that plaintiff was not served and eventually escorted out of the bar because of his perceived support for President Trump is not outrageous conduct.”
The instinctive reaction from many on the right will be to condemn the ruling, but the judge was correct in dismissing the lawsuit. In the first place, the evidence indicates that Piatek and his friends were not upset when they left the bar. The credit card receipt indicates that Piatek’s group ran up a $186 bar tab, to which Piatek voluntarily added a $36 tip. The 20 percent tip is an indication that the group was not displeased with the service that they received.
Second, even though critics of Trump’s movement have called it a cult, support for Donald Trump is not a religious belief and Piatek did not make the case that his hat was religious clothing at the time of the incident. The claim that a MAGA hat is religious garb makes a mockery of true religious persecution.
Although many conservatives seem to have thrown free trade by the wayside, the Constitution does protect the freedom of association and, by extension, the freedom not to associate. Likewise, businesses have traditionally had the right to refuse service to patrons who break their rules. Rules might prohibit sitting at a table without ordering or they might prohibit certain types of clothing.
There are limits to the right to refuse service. Race and religion have long been protected from discrimination by both state and federal laws. New York law prohibits “public accommodations” from discriminating because of “race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, or disability or marital status.” The New York Constitution also protects the free exercise of religion.
What the law does not do is protect patrons from political discrimination by a private business. There is no inalienable right to be served a cocktail while wearing a MAGA hat.
In fact, even the US Constitution does not guarantee the right to free speech in a private business. The First Amendment protects Americans from government censorship, not from being ejected from a bar because the patron engaged in an unpopular political expression.
While it’s tempting to try to claim the mantle of victimhood when someone on the right is ejected from a bar for wearing Republican garb, that isn’t a road that conservatives should want to go down. The inevitable result would be leftists filing a plethora of lawsuits against conservative businesses.
It would also result in a further expansion of government into private transactions between businesses and individuals. No conservative should want the government ruling on what political attire crosses the line as unacceptable. Those decisions are better left to the owners and managers of individual businesses.
Trump supporters may be justly angry that Piatek was forced to leave the Happiest Hour, but suing the bar is not the best solution. A better solution is for like-minded individuals to vote with their wallets and patronize a different establishment, one where MAGA hats are at least tolerated, if not welcomed. In a city the size of New York, with establishments that cater to every sort of clientele, there is certain to be a bar where MAGA hat-wearing, Trump-supporting visitors to the city can enjoy their drinks in peace.
Originally published in The Resurgent