The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech and protects speech that we might find objectionable.
That does not mean we have to publish it, however.
And it doesn’t mean an employer must allow it.
If an employer wants to fire an employee for a racist rant that does not reflect company values, it is well within its rights to do so.
Yes, First Amendment protections of free speech are broad.
The First Amendment does not merely protect the speech of people we agree with or who say reasonable things. In fact, if all speech is not free then there is no free speech. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides: “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.”
In the 45 words that begin the Bill of Rights, five American freedoms are guaranteed. Among them is the freedom of speech. No American right is more fundamental than the freedom of speech.
We are free to speak our minds.
And we can speak our minds from the public square or find our own stage, but that does not mean that we might not be fired from a private-sector job for doing so.
The First Amendment applies to everyone — liberals, conservatives, libertarians, activists, protestors and people with whom we disagree.
In New York Times v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court said, “We consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”
Speech does not have to be kind, tolerable or intelligent to be protected by the First Amendment.
There is no general hate speech exception to the First Amendment. Hate speech is not illegal or unconstitutional unless there is a specific threat of terrorism or violence. What has been called the “fighting words” exception to the First Amendment, based on case law, might apply if an angry person in a crowd used racial slurs to threaten someone in a way that could erupt into violence, but if those exact same words appear on a sign during a protest it would not rise to the level of illegality.
The First Amendment protects freedom — the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble and the freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Some of you fought for our rights of free speech even if that includes things we find objectionable, distasteful, hateful, irritating or just disgusting. State laws, local ordinance or even policies of public institutions cannot circumvent the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment.
Public institutions must be very careful not to overreact and overstep in an effort to silence critics.
When public speech is restricted by government, it is no longer free speech — and where there is no free speech, there is no real freedom.
Giving a megaphone to people who spew objectionable, distasteful or hate-filled speech is a completely different matter. While government must not use strong-arm tactics to silence its critics, the media or a private non-government employer, for example, does not have to give a platform, a venue or space in print or online, for people to say whatever they want to say.
We all have the freedom of speech, but our words still have consequences.