In November, 2016, when it became clear to us all that Donald Trump would be our next president, a New York designer named Sophie Theallet let it be known in fairly clear terms that she would never make clothes for the incoming first lady. The temper and tone of Mrs. Trump's husband offended her sense of justice.
"As an independent fashion brand, we consider our voice an expression of our artistic and philosophical ideas," she had said in her statement. "The ... brand stands against discrimination and prejudice. Our runway shows, ad campaigns, and celebrity dressing have always been a celebration of diversity and a reflection of the world we live in. ... as a family-owned company, our bottom line is not just about money. We value our artistic freedom, and ... seek to contribute to a more humane, conscious, and ethical way to create in this world."
While many designers said they would happily dress the gorgeous first lady, Theallet had her defenders, such as Philip Lim. When asked, he informed Women’s Wear Daily that since he also valued "inclusion, diversity, justice [and] consciousness," he too was a "no."
Two months after that, Anne Mahlum, who runs the chain of gyms Solidcore, discovered Trump’s daughter Ivanka had dared take a class in one of her branches, which she seemed to perceive as a form of invasion. "While I don’t know her ... I do know her father is threatening the rights of many of my beloved clients and coaches and as a business owner, I take my responsibility to protect and fight for my people very seriously," she had written. "Ivanka was one of the most steadfast, vocal, and visible people during President Trump’s campaign and ... clients have already been adversely impacted, directly and indirectly, by the President’s decisions that he has made in his first few weeks in Office. I am extremely proud of the inclusive community at [Solidcore] that respects everyone’s age, race, religion, sexual orientation, or otherwise, and it is my key priority to protect that community."
Clearly, these three think a lot of their brands. They think of having to compromise as breach of integrity, and almost everyone on the left would flock to support them. All would agree that the law should support them.
But can they explain how the way that these people think of their work is in any way different from the way that Jack Phillips, of Masterpiece Cakeshop, thinks about his?
His critics say he bakes cakes, which are food to be eaten. But in his mind, he designs unique works of art that reflect his own values, much as the designers above think of their dresses, and the owner of the Solidcore studios thinks of the community feeling she thinks she creates in her gyms.
A gay couple who buy a ready-made wedding cake in a store, a conservative who plucks a gown from the rack of a liberal artist, may have the force of the law to be safe in their purchase. But to force an artist to give his heart and his art to a cause or idea he does not wholly believe in is the sort of forced labor the courts should abjure. The gym owner is on shakier ground, as her doors (in theory) are open to all, and the service she offers less personal. But if you think Sophie Theallet is within her rights in refusing a theoretical ask by Melania Trump as first lady, then you can't avoid the conclusion that the same rights belong to Jack Phillips, too.
Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."