North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Deborah Ross spoke out in defense of state bars that chose to stop admitting members of the military.
Ross has been forced to answer for much of the work she did as head of North Carolina's ACLU branch during her Democratic primary battle and current campaign to unseat Republican Sen. Richard Burr. Critics of her ACLU record have pointed to cases that Ross took up and also cases that she chose to ignore, such as a Vietnam veteran who asked for her help after being told he could not fly the American flag on his property.
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One group that never received her help was a group of active military members in North Carolina who were told they could not attend certain bars because they were part of the armed forces.
Active personnel at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune complained to Wilmington, North Carolina's Star-News in 1996 after it became normal for bars in town to refuse service to military members.
Bars began installing "no-military" policies in Wilmington, citing complaints about "violent and vulgar behavior by some young Marines." The rules applied to all personnel who looked like they were in the military, whether or not they had caused any trouble.
"If you come in with a haircut like you just came out of boot camp, you're not getting in anywhere," one Marine corporal said.
"How can they pick a certain class of people?" asked George Josephs, then a captain in the Marines. "That'd be the same as saying only people who make a certain amount of money can come in. They could just as easily say they don't want blacks in or Jewish people in."
Ross told the paper that the bars were acting within their rights when they instated the bans, explaining that members of the armed forces are not a "protected class."
Ross compared the military restriction to policies requiring customers to wear certain attire such as a shirt and tie, saying that as long as the discrimination is not based on an "immutable" characteristic such as race or gender it is legally fine.
One club owner who wrote to Camp Lejeune to ask that Marines be notified that his establishment was off limits for them said it was due to the "kill, kill, kill" mentality instilled at the camp.
"I truly believe in the armed forces," said Ian Mosely, who owned a bar called the Wave Hog. "But when you've been told kill, kill, kill seven days a week, it's hard to calm down when you go out on a Saturday night."
"Having girls get blood splattered on their blouses isn't good for business," Mosely said.
The Ross campaign did not respond to a request for comment on her current stance on the anti-military policy.
Ross has taken heat for numerous cases that she took while at the ACLU. Two weeks ago, the Morning Consult looked into work Ross did on behalf of Ku Klux Klan members hoping to hold a public demonstration. She also defended the right for people to burn the American flag and wanted Christmas songs banned from elementary schools.
"There was one common theme during Deborah Ross' dangerous ACLU career: she'll stand up for convicted criminals and sex offenders, but can't be bothered to help veterans or military members in need," said Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for Sen. Burr.
Update 2:10 P.M.: This post has been updated to reflect comment from a Burr spokesman.