Theater Smoking Ban Violates Free Expression

The January 10 Denver Post published my letter under the title, “Why smoking ban shouldn’t apply on stage.” The letter replied to a January 4 editorial.

The Post argues that, because actors can use fake cigarettes on stage, the state smoking ban should apply. But just because The Post is capable of publishing fake news and commentary doesn’t mean it should be forbidden from publishing the real thing. The owners should decide policy, and patrons should decide which plays to see. It is a matter of property rights as well as free expression. By inviting politicians to set policy in the playhouse, The Post invites them to do the same in the newsroom.

Free association is also a critical right under assault by the smoking ban, in the theater as well as other private establishments. Actors too have a right to reach mutually agreeable terms for working. A play properly involves the mutual consent of theater owners, actors, and patrons. Politicians violate the rights of all those parties by interfering.

The Post is schizophrenic regarding the First Amendment (which is odd given that free expression is what enables newspapers to do business). Thankfully on January 22 the Post stood with free speech by declaring that individuals retain their rights when they join an association to promote ideas with their financial resources.