A couple of stories over the last couple of weeks have highlighted the need for a tutorial on the first amendment. I spend a good amount of time when I teach government over what is protected in free speech and what isn't protected. By now, everyone knows about Glenn Beck's comments on Fox and Friends in late July. This post isn't about those comments because they have been hashed and rehashed. However, there has been a lot of interesting fallout for his program directly and the way that people perceive free speech.
In response to the boycotts of Glen Beck's program, one poster said the following, "More crushing of dissent in Obamastan." The title of the thread was "Democrats war on free speech." Before I go off on my rant, I thought I would bring up another case of where free speech has somehow come into question. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey caused a stir when he wrote an op ed piece for the Wall Street Journal about health care. Obviously, considering that progressives are a large percentage of the shoppers at Whole Foods, it wouldn't surprise anyone to hear that there is a significant boycott of that store as well.
Generally speaking, people make two huge mistakes when they talk about free speech. The first mistake was made by my friend up there and by Mackey. Have the Democrats waged a war on free speech? No, they haven't waged any more of a war than the conservatives who organized boycotts of the Dixie Chicks and other entertainers that voiced liberal viewpoints. The first lesson of free speech is that your speech will usually create some sort of a response. Sometimes people agree and sometimes they don't. Having the right to free speech doesn't mean there will be no consequences for saying something stupid. It just means Congress shall make no lawing preventing you from saying it.
This brings us to point number two. I am reminded of the comments by John Rocker more than a decade ago about how much he hated riding the subway in New York. He was suspended by MLB and his career was never the same. Defenders of his comments said his free speech was violated. Remember, it says "Congress shall make no law........". That has nothing to do with your employer. If I say something stupid I should expect my employer to have a conversation with me. That conversation may even be a short one with me handing in my keys.
More than anything, it is high time we understood that free speech is anything but free. Glenn Beck can continue to say things that aren't true and he can continue to stir the pot of racism if he wishes. That behavior has consequences and apparently he's starting to feel them. Clearly, he wasn't sitting in my classroom when I started to talk about slander and libel. That might be the next step for a man who seems allergic to the truth. As for John Mackey, he might learn the lesson by getting his walking papers. A businessman should always remember who is customers are. As for the rest of us, we should keep in mind that we can say what we want. We might not like the response though.