Target Corp.'s courtroom battle with a San Diego gay rights group is endangering the retailer's already-strained relationship with the LGBT community, but it also threatens to strike a blow to the free speech rights of political canvassers.
The Minnesota-based corporation made headlines all over the country Friday, as a California judge began to hear its lawsuit against Canvass For A Cause, a pro-gay marriage group that has been canvassing outside Target stores. The suit seeks to bar the activists from all Target locations in California, alleging the canvassers are "harassing and cornering" customers, according to the AP.
Target is catching increasing heat from the gay and lesbian community following a controversial $150,000 donation to a group backing a Minnesota Republican candidate who opposed gay marriage. But the retailer insists the lawsuit is not politicially motivated, and seeks only to provide a "distraction-free shopping experience."
CFAC is fighting the injunction:
Canvass For A Cause director Tres Watson says Target wants to silence the 12,000-member group that formed in 2009 because it promotes gay marriage.
"It's very David vs. Goliath," he said. "We understand they're the Goliath in the room. They've got all money in world to get us to stop talking about gay marriage."
Watson says volunteers are trained daily on being professional and polite and their aim is to educate the public about the rights of gays and lesbians.
He says they have a right to work outside the stores and the courts have ruled in the past that shopping centers are today's public squares where freedom of speech should be allowed.
No doubt most groups that canvass are watching this case closely, and we here at Canvassing Works support CFAC's position. It's troubling that Target would pick another fight with the LGBT community, but also disturbing that the retailer is trying to dispense with political discourse as nothing more than harassment or a distraction.
California courts have ruled in the past that on private property like shopping centers and malls, free speech rights apply the same as in a public forum.
Judge Jeffrey Barton should rule in favor of CFAC, and in defense of freedom of expression over the corporation's self-interest. Canvass For A Cause is fighting, not just for LGBT rights, but for the basic rights of Americans to engage in free political discussion.