Lowe’s has free speech rights too

Lowe’s should have expected backlash when it pulled advertising from the TV reality show “All-American Muslim” in response to an email campaign by a conservative Christian group in Florida. Consumers who see the bigotry behind that campaign are understandably disappointed with the home improvement giant. It wasn’t the company’s finest moment.

But Lowe’s has every right to spend its advertising dollars where it chooses. It may not have been a courageous move or even, ultimately, a smart one, but it was a business decision the company is entitled to make. So it is disturbing that California Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) is threatening to seek a “legislative remedy” unless the company apologizes in full to American Muslims, denounces the opinions of the show’s critics and, perhaps, reverses itself on the advertising.

Lowe’s was reacting to complaints generated by the Florida Family Assn. claiming that the show, which follows the day-to-day lives of several Muslim households in Dearborn, Mich., whitewashed its portrait of Muslim life and was trying to “manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad.” In this group’s view, if the show didn’t portray Muslim terrorists, then it couldn’t possibly be showing real Muslims.

Lowe’s could have commanded respect by refusing to capitulate. But the purpose of advertising isn’t generally to make brave statements; it’s to attract more business. At the point where Lowe’s perceived that its connection to the show might mean a loss of customers rather than a gain, it’s not all that surprising that it chose to withdraw — just as several advertisers reportedly withdrew from the “John and Ken” radio show in October after a stunt that involved giving out the cellphone number of an advocate for illegal immigrants, which led to calls for a boycott of the show’s sponsors.


Lowe’s withdrawal could ultimately prove foolish. Just as there are bigots in this country, there are others who deplore giving in to such prejudice; some of them are now calling for a boycott.

That’s how the free market works, which is different from a lawmaker pushing for legislative action to prod Lowe’s into penning the kind of apology that he finds acceptable and placing its advertising dollars where the government thinks it should. Lieu commendably seeks to call out bigotry wherever he sees it, but he should think out his positions more carefully. Even if all he ultimately does is push for a legislative resolution condemning the company, it’s inappropriate.

The free speech provision of the U.S. Constitution protects the right of TV stations to air a show on Muslim families, the right of a Florida group to denounce the show, the right of activists to denounce haters and the right of companies to advertise where they choose. Government interference with any of those rights would come perilously close to forced, not free, speech.

A cure for the common opinion

Get thought-provoking perspectives with our weekly newsletter.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.