Wednesday, April 30, 2014

People Need to Learn What the First Amendment Actually Says

In the wake of Donald Sterling's racist remarks, a number of people have alluded to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and have been asking how Sterling could be disciplined even though his freedom of speech is guaranteed by said Constitution.

Here's the First Amendment. The parts concerned with free speech are in bold and underlined...

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

"Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech."

That's all the First Amendment does. It prohibits the government from making laws limiting your freedom of speech. The Constitution doesn't give you immunity from people reacting to your opinions. It certainly doesn't protect you from being fired or punished by an employer. You have freedom of speech, but your speech does not have freedom of consequences.

When an NBA coach criticizes officials, the NBA typically fines him. That's not a violation of the First Amendment. The NBA has every right to do that.

If you walked up to your boss and said "Sit on it and rotate," you could be punished for that.

If a waiter or waitress swears at a customer, they can be punished for it.

If a school teacher teaches their students that black people aren't as evolved as whites, they could and should be fired for that. They can't be arrested for it, but the school (whether it's public or private) has the right to dismiss the teacher.

And if the owner of an NBA team says racist things that are detrimental to the league, even if it's in the privacy of his own house, he can be banned and fined. The First Amendment guarantees he won't be arrested or prosecuted for what he said. It does not guarantee that his speech won't result in consequences.

So people, before you start citing Amendments, please learn what they mean. And be grateful that the First Amendment protects you from being arrested for incorrectly citing the First Amendment. It does not protect you from me calling you a bonehead.

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