Can the Government Force Private Property Owners to Allow Breastfeeding?

Macy Hornung was asked to leave Fargo’s new Chick-fil-A restaurant for breast-feeding her 7-month-old daughter, Ziggy, setting off a social media firestorm. David Samson / The Forum

In Fargo there is controversy over a nursing mother who was asked to leave a Chick-fil-A restaurant. Media reporting on incident references a state law, passed during the 2009 session, which protections the right of mothers to breastfeed on public property or on private property that’s open to the public.

Here’s the specific language from the North Dakota Century Code:

I fully support mothers breastfeeding in public. I think the prudes who get up in arms about it should find better things to do with their time. That said, this law is problematic in a couple of ways.

Using terms like “discreet” and “modest” makes this law pretty much useless. After all, whose definition of “modest” are we using?

But the larger problem is the question of whether or not the state government can force private property owners to allow breastfeeding. I’m not sure they can. I definitely don’t think they should. If any given business or private organization wants to disallow breastfeeding on their premises they should be allowed to.

I would be critical of anyone making that decision. I would likely choose to boycott any businesses instituting such a policy. But from the perspective of respecting property rights, I don’t think it’s appropriate (or perhaps even legal) for the government to force a policy down the throats of private citizens.

Let’s consider a related issue, which is the legal battle over women going topless in public. In New Hampshire that’s an issue currently before the state’s highest court. But if women get the right to go topless in public, does that mean private property owners have to allow it in their restaurants? In their stores? In their churches?

If so, how about other dress code requirements, such as wearing shoes?

The law excerpted above states that women have a “right” to breastfeed on private property.

As much as I think objections to public breastfeeding are obnoxious, this erosion of property rights seems more odious.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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