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One cause that’s a real lemon

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Esther Cepeda
August 18, 2011
— Just in case you’re not thoroughly fed up with partisan politics invading every single crevice of our lives, here comes Lemonade Freedom Day.

On Aug. 20, lovers of freedom—in stark contrast to those liberal baddies who want to put a full nanny-state into place—are being encouraged by Robert Fernandes to set up or patronize a lemonade stand in solidarity with the countless youngsters across the country who have had their little businesses crushed by the bureaucrats of their local governments.


Fernandes, creator of the website www.lemonadefreedom.com—catch-phrase: “Selling lemonade is not a crime!”—is outraged by news reports of kids getting their lemonade stands shut down by local law enforcement agents because they didn’t have the proper licenses and permits.


He’s not alone. The Freedom Center of Missouri, a self-described nonpartisan organization “dedicated to research and constitutional litigation in five key areas: freedom of expression, economic liberty (the right to earn a living), property rights, religious liberties, and limited government,” calls it a “government war on kid-run concession stands.”


The center keeps a running tally of oppressed juvenile merchants on its website www.mofreedom.org.


Bloggers and tweeters who romanticize the lemonade stand as a symbol of American entrepreneurism have taken up Fernandes’ cause and see Lemonade Freedom Day as an opportunity to raise a defiant glass to American Dream-killing, big-government regulators who demand that community residents and businesses—gasp!—comply with local laws.


The evil bureaucrats couldn’t possibly have good reasons for shutting down a lemonade stand, could they?


The city of Appleton, Wis., spent months planning and recruiting food vendors for an annual neighborhood festival—no easy task, I can tell you from experience—and contracts were signed with the understanding that no other vendors would be allowed to sell similar goods within a two-block radius of the event. A 9-year-old and her parents, who were not aware of the new ordinance, got upset when her lemonade stand was shut down by the police.


Is it fair to uphold legal contracts with vendors or merely heartless to bust innocent young entrepreneurs? The Appleton case is an extreme example that certainly lends itself to great family conversation about the nature of local laws and the importance of knowing what they are.


The other issue is safety.


Scroll through lists of kid food-stand closures and you’ll find that many of them cite health codes that don’t allow food to be prepared in areas where there is no on-site hand-washing or that require proof that safety precautions were taken during food preparation.


While you might be perfectly willing to take your chances as a consumer of home-prepared snacks—even most public schools no longer allow homemade, nonprepackaged food to be distributed to students on special occasions such as birthdays—all it takes is one outbreak of food poisoning to result in a lawsuit against a village or town for not properly ensuring that health codes were enforced.


If this sounds stupid to you, don’t blame long-standing community ordinances. Blame our litigation-crazed society. We live in a country whose courts are brimming with lawsuits over setbacks that years ago would have just been chalked up to the mishaps of a life well lived.


Today, if a child is harmed while out selling—or someone blames an illness on something the child sold—and there’s no permit on file showing the parents of the child have acknowledged the risks and responsibilities of being a vendor, it’s the town that will get sued—by its own residents.


But don’t swallow the “we’re standing up for the rights of children’s economic freedom” rhetoric the hysterical Lemonade Freedom people are stirring up. Their moral outrage has little to do with nurturing the next generation of salespeople. It has everything to do with the current populist negativity toward anything that might even remotely smack of government intrusion into private lives. These people simplistically and wrongheadedly believe that “laws are bad” and should be resisted.


By all means let’s celebrate Lemonade Freedom Day—make it a teaching moment. Those who actually care about preparing the next generation to become profitable businesspeople should take their favorite youngster down to city hall to jump through the necessary hoops and learn what it really takes to become a successful entrepreneur.


Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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