Monday, July 14, 2008

A Restaurant, a Drugstore, and the First Amendment.

I hate it when news stories fail to tell the whole story. Space is limited, I understand, but sometimes they fail to answer the most obvious questions.

Take, for example, this story, published yesterday, about the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) coming to the defense of a Missouri restaurant called Justus Drugstore, A Restaurant. The state says it can't use the word "drugstore" in its name because it isn't one. The ACLU says it's a free speech issue.

Since the First Amendment doesn't protect misrepresentation, and protects commercial speech at a lower level than it does other kinds of speech, the next question one is likely to ask (at least it was the next question I asked) is what is behind the odd name? That, apparently, is not something the St. Louis Post Dispatch thought its readers needed to know.

Fortunately, the internet was quick to yield an answer, and it turns out to be a cool story. The short version, as I suspected, is that the building used to be a drugstore, but there is more to it than that. For starters, the drugstore was run by the chef's parents, and the decline of the small town where it is located gives the name's preservation a certain poignancy.

The restaurant has run afoul of a state law specifically about pharmacies, but in general cases such as this should hinge on whether or not a reasonable person would believe "Justus Drugstore, A Restaurant" is actually a drugstore, and be harmed by that mistake. Obviously, the law is intended to prevent a business that is not a licensed pharmacy from posing as one. It surely did not anticipate nor was it intended to be used in situations like this.

So in steps the ACLU, much vilified by the Right, but here involved in something most conservatives should endorse, which is defending private business owners against the government's heavy and, in this case, capricious hand.

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