Culture

Why Sarah Sanders Was Kicked Out of The Red Hen

Can you be asked to leave a restaurant because of your political affiliation? The answer depends on where you're dining.
Sarah Sanders Red Hen
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Upon learning that Sarah Huckabee Sanders was dining at her restaurant, it didn't take long for The Red Hen owner Stephanie Wilkinson to come to a decision. After confirming that it was indeed the White House press secretary who was eating in her Virginia dining room, Wilkinson promptly asked Sanders to leave. 

"This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals," Wilkinson told The Washington Post about her choice. And though the confrontation itself was reported to have been "polite," let's just say the response from the rest of the country has been anything but cordial.

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In the days following the incident, opponents of Wilkinson have been bombarding The Red Hen's Yelp page with one-star reviews, with some going as far as recirculating her private home address and phone number online. Meanwhile, restaurants around the world with names sounding anything remotely similar to The Red Hen have also been harassed online: The staff at an unaffiliated Red Hen in Washington, D.C., has been receiving death threats, and a spot all the way in the Philippines named Little Red Hen has been hounded.

The president has also (not surprisingly) chimed in on Twitter.

Aside from the expected fallout, Sanders's removal from The Red Hen raises a big question: Can you be asked to leave a restaurant because of your political affiliation? The answer: It depends. As the Washingtonian noted, if Sanders had chosen to dine somewhere in D.C., where it's illegal to refuse service based on a customer's ideology, we wouldn't be hearing about the weaponization of Yelp. But in most parts of the country—including Lexington, Virginia—your political affiliation is an unprotected right, making Wilkinson's actions perfectly legal, no matter how counterintuitive it may seem to the idea of hospitality.

"We are in an unusual period of time, where restaurants and fast-food chains have become politicized, and where you shop does speak to politics," Brian Powell, sociology professor at Indiana University, told CBS. Last week, protesters heckled Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen out of a Mexican restaurant in D.C., while earlier in June, the Supreme Court handed down a controversial ruling that upheld a Colorado baker's decision to refuse service to a same-sex couple.

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