Infringing on my First Amendment rights or are you? It’s complicated

While it is true that most employees in this country are at will and thus can be dismissed by an employer for any reason and without warning. It is a slippery slope when an employer controls an employee’s right to free speech in said employee’s free time. Case in point, ESPN is suspending Jemele Hill for her recent tweet pertaining to the anthem “protest,” which she did on her own time and own Twitter account. Is ESPN infringing on Ms. Hill’s first amendment rights? Do they have the right to control her speech if she is not doing it on their airwaves? And if we were to say they have no right to suspend her, we are also ready to defend the racist who gets fired after tweeting the N-word on their own time and account. See not so simple, but it still is a slippery slope as it pertains to the first amendment, or is it. The part of the First Amendment that pertains to freedom of speech came about due to the King of England’s past practices, who would imprison or otherwise punish political dissenters. Our founders realized a cornerstone of freedom was the ability to speak freely and without fear of the government penalizing them. The keyword in that explanation is government. The amendment guarantees the government would not prohibit or punish any individual for speaking freely. It does not say a business can not make its own rules about its employees and their speech’s impact on that business.
In theory, ESPN and, for that matter, NFL owners have the right to expect their employees to adhere to rules about what they can and can not say in public if they believe it reflects poorly on the business’s bottom line. Whoa! That sounds like if you choose to work for a company, you forfeit your right to speak freely if the company doesn’t agree with your viewpoint. Yep that precisely what I believe it means. Complicated? Yes, like most issues in America, it isn’t straightforward. All we can do is ensure that employers don’t abuse this by hitting those who do in the pocketbook through boycotts and other types of peaceful actions that have adverse financial impacts on their companies and brands. Because no matter how you interpret the First Amendment, if you allow employers to go unchecked in their attempt to thwart progress by looking to silence rather than engage in meaningful conversation, the voices of dissent change will never happen. Because only when the masses rise up and in one voice demand change will change take place.

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