Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A word about the First Amendment

While surfing around the web this afternoon I came across this video of four Dallas broadcast "journalists" colliding with the reality of Michael Sam as the first "out" gay NFL football player. One of the ladies in this video expressed disgust over seeing Michael Sam kiss his boyfriend in the course of celebrating the occasion of his being drafted by an NFL. A second broadcast "journalist" stomped off the set when it was explained to her that she doesn't have the right to edit other peoples' lives.

I'm amazed the producer didn't go to commercial, but I suspect we are going to see a lot of this: people self-destructing over their homophobic beliefs.

It is clear from listening to this discussion that none of the ladies on the show understands the First Amendment, which is kind of surprising given that they are supposedly journalists.

The First Amendment protects individuals from GOVERNMENT retaliation against expressions of personal opinion--and there are still some limits on that (you can't shout "fire" in a crowded movie theater to cause a panicked stampede).

Private companies and organization like the NFL can make all kinds of rules limiting speech in the context of their business relationships. If the NFL believes that homophobia damages its brand, it can sanction homophobes. The government has nothing to do with it--there is no violation of the First Amendment.

If the NBA feels that Donald Sterling's racism damages their brand, they are free to disassociate themselves from him. The government has nothing to do with it--there is no violation of the First Amendment.

When Cliven Bundy summoned armed militia to help him chase away federals agents, Republicans fell all over themselves to praise him. When Cliven Bundy revealed he was a racist, Republicans fled in the other direction. The reason they did so is that they have learned that racism has badly damaged the Republican brand.

What these ladies failed to understand--especially the one who stomped off the stage--is that freedom of expression bumps up against the freedom of association (or disassociation, as the case may be). You want to express an offensive opinion? You want to espouse racism or homophobia? You know what? Knock yourself out.

But if you do, be prepared for people to disassociate themselves from you. No one owes a racist a job. No one is obligated to stay in a business relationship with a homophobe. I predict a wave of suddenly unemployed homophobes.

The First Amendment is tricky. I'll fight to the death to protect your right to say whatever you want to say. On the other hand, if the government--local, state, or federal--isn't involved, then I will also fight to the death to protect your employer's right to fire you.

If your employer believes your expressed racism or homophobia is potentially a liability, then they should have the ability to sanction or even terminate you. Then you can go stand in the unemployment line and talk about how much you hate gay people or brown people or the French. Go ahead, knock yourself out. It's a free country.

But remember: LGBT people don't need your permission to lead their lives.

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