The Foreigner’s Guide to Free Speech in America
I got my serious hat on.
In light of recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, I’ve fielded a few queries from friends here in the Philippines that, interestingly enough, have all asked pretty much the same essential question:
“If there’s freedom of speech in America, how could those guys get fired from their jobs?”
Ah, asking the important questions. Apparently stimulated by news reports that people have been identifying the white supremacists in published photographs of the event, leading to their employers canning their behinds.
Well, let’s see if I can clear up the intricacies of American Freedom of Speech in this post for the rest of you. AFAIK anyway (that’s “as far as I know” in netspeak). Since, of course, I am not a lawyer (IANAL, which I find quite apropos!). However, I have been writing and publishing for a few decades in the U.S., so knowing a thing or two about their free speech rules comes in handy. That, and also I read and think, which, regardless of what anyone says, is really all that’s required to know sh*t.
Don’t worry — this will be clinical, as best as I can pull that off without boring myself to tears (so it likely won’t be vanilla), definitely not an opportunity for me to do any of my usual Facebook anti-Trump proselytizing. Nor will we partake of any mental gymnastic discussions on moral and philosophical ideas outside of what their laws and court decisions have literally stated and laid out for everyone to follow. Save all that other stuff for when you’ve got nothing better to do with your mates and the beer is plentiful.
With those caveats out of the way, let’s get right to it then. Here’s the great news: It’s dirt simple!
You likely already know, when the Americans talk about “freedom of speech,” they’re referring to the right to express what you want as laid out by the First Amendment of their Constitution. I’ll spare you the archaic-sounding verbiage; clickthrough that link if you want to see it.
Well, what most people fail to realize is that those words are a covenant that are only in play between people and the government. In other words, the government cannot impede your right to speak your mind nor can it enforce any consequences for you doing so (assuming that you do not express things that have been clearly deemed totally illegal by more laws — such as making threats, communicating something legally obscene, inciting criminal activity, etc.).
Got that? Government. It says nothing about private parties and how they’re required to put up with your sh*t. Let me make it even simpler: No such requirement for them exists. Because they have the same rights you do too. So unless it’s on a public (aka government) venue or vehicle, in all practicality, all bets are off.
So, going back to Charlottesville as an example, the white scum essentially had the right to assemble on public property and start spewing their hatred. But the opposition also had the same exact rights. Which, as we know, they took full advantage of, protesting the Nazis concurrently. So that leads to this inevitable observation: The supremacists’ whining that their right to freedom of speech was trampled on is absolutely ignorant (no surprise there) and bogus. It’s not like there’s a rule that states you all have to wait for your turn to speak.
Now’s a good time, then, in light of this simplified clarity on what the “rule” really is, to know what protections the American’s First Amendment does not provide:
- You do not have a right to anonymity. You can try, of course, but there’s nothing in the rules that prevent anyone from trying to figure out exactly who you are if they want. So if you’re dumb enough to get your face photographed while hanging out with other angry white supremacists, soon you’ll realize that …
- You do not have freedom from consequences. If people figure out who you are after you’ve pissed them off by being a low-life, offensive jackass, nothing in the rules prevent them from telling your employer, family, friends, lover, and pretty much any other private party who’ll listen, all about your actions and behavior. If that creates problems, that’s on you. Doesn’t infringe on your right to free speech — if you get fired from your job, you’re still free to continue mouthing off what you want whenever you want in public, right? You just won’t be doing it under their employ.
- You also do not have a right not to be mocked, criticized, shamed or even shouted down by private parties. I think that’s all pretty self-explanatory. You put yourself out there, so you’re going to have to take the lumps when they come.
Notice how none of the reactions above have anything to do with the Government’s acting on whatever you’ve said. That’s as “free speech” as it gets!
I told you, it’s all so simple. Class dismissed.
P.S. You most certainly can post any comments you want below, or even on my Facebook page, attacking and criticizing me. But if you think that under free speech rules that it’ll get or stay published, haha, what do I look like to you, the U.S. government?