The Foreigner’s Guide to Free Speech in America
In light of fairly 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 won’t be too clinical, since I don’t want to bore myself to tears either (so maybe a good chance this won’t be too vanilla). Nor will we partake of any mental gymnastic discussions on moral and philosophical ideas outside of what American 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 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.
Well, what most people fail to realize is that those U.S. Constitution words are a covenant that are only in play between people and the government. In other words, the U.S. government cannot impede your right to speak your mind nor can it enforce any consequences for you doing so… assuming 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 anyone else’s sh*t. Let me make it even simpler: No such requirement for them exists. Because they have the same rights everyone else has 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 wasn’t the government shouting them down. And it’s not like there’s a rule that states you all have to wait 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, hateful jackass, nothing in the rules prevent them from telling your employer, family, friends, lover, and pretty much anyone 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 if and when they come.
Notice how none of the reactions above have anything to do with the government’s acting on whatever’s being 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 track down my Facebook account to attack and criticize me (my follower counts on other social media platforms are embarrassingly low… just saving you the trouble). But if you think that under free speech rules that it’ll get or stay published, haha, it’ll just get zapped unceremoniously. What do I look like to you, the U.S. government?