Editorials

Yes, the First Amendment still applies to teen wearing a MAGA hat at Oak Park Mall

Here’s a brief refresher course on the First Amendment we all studied in the seventh grade: Individuals in America are free to express their opinions and beliefs.

That includes making political statements and declaring support for elected officials of all political stripes. And no matter what you think of President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” mantra or policies, you don’t have the right to belittle or attack someone on the other end of the political spectrum.

And even in this overheated political moment in our country, donning a Trump-approved MAGA hat shouldn’t be an invitation for harassment. That’s why the behavior of a Vans Off the Wall employee who accosted a teenager at Oak Park Mall is so disappointing.

The teen’s mother is heard on a viral video telling a man who appears to manage the store that her child who was wearing a MAGA hat did nothing to provoke a store employee. The mother says the employee cursed at the teen before the camera started rolling.

“My son walked into the store,” the woman says on video to the manager. “That gentleman cursed and told him, ‘take off your hat.’ He said nothing to him, a 14-year-old child. Then he said, ‘F you’ to my son. My son said nothing to him. Did nothing.”

To its credit, Vans responded swiftly and appropriately.

“Our primary focus is to provide the best customer service experience,” the company wrote in response to the video. “The actions and comments from one employee in our Oak Park location are in contrast with our company’s values and belief in personal expression. The employee is no longer with the company.”

The moment employees walk onto a job, they represent their employer. The Vans employee should have left his personal politics at home. The company’s decision to part ways with the unidentified man was the only recourse.

Unfortunately, some business owners and managers across America have refused service to individuals in “Make America Great Again” hats, touting anti-Trump policies and actually turning paying customers away. And last year, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was cast out of a Virginia restaurant in a high-profile incident that sparked a national debate.

But do we really want to become a country where we can’t share the same restaurant with diners who don’t agree with our political beliefs? Do we want to divide ourselves up among Republican-friendly stores and Democrats-only drinking establishments?

Private companies can institute whatever polices they see fit. But having the right to deny service doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Vans, a publicly-traded company owned by VF Corp., apparently recognizes that.

One of the founding principles of this nation is the right to free speech. Which should mean that one is free to wear a MAGA hat to the mall.

No one, especially a 14-year-old child, deserves to be targeted by a self-righteous store employee for wearing one.

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