On the Fourth of July weekend, with all that has been in the news, we take a look at whether the First Amendment– which has been a sacred component of our culture for over 200 years — is it still enough to protect free expression.
First lets get this out of the way, right away. The First Amendment only applies when the Government, or a government agency prevents you from exercising your right to speak freely. When your company fires you for the things you say outside of work (unrelated to your job performance), the First Amendment is powerless to protect you. But the harms of censorship remain the same.
But back in the years between 1776 and 1788 when that Bill of Rights was first envisioned, the corporation wasn’t even invented yet. The people who hired you didn’t know about, or care about what you said when you were off the clock. And the media was something we protected. A lot of things were different back in 1776.
Back in 1776, who would have imagined it would be our employers who posed a threat to our freedoms!?
Back in 1776, who would have imagined it would be the media itself that would become the thought police and enforcers, searching out speech they found to be unacceptable, and pushing the corporations to act or bear consequences!?
Back in 1776, who would have imagined that entertainers and philosophers (like our comedians and talk show hosts) would have to watch what they say, both on and off stage!?
Back in 1776, who would have imagined that employees would be asked to live their lives in a manner “consistent with” their employers beliefs!?
Back in 1776, who would have imagined that average citizens, and the media itself, would be the ones to ask the rich and powerful to police our behaviors.
Back in 1776, who would have thought that average citizens, and members of the media would applaud big wealthy business owners making decisions to hand out punishment to those who have something unpopular today.
There was a time when we feared “big brother” whether “big brother” came in the form of the government, or any other powerful entity, like the media or a corporation.
There was a time when we created safeguards to prevent “thought police” from punishing our right to express ourselves.
There was a time when we believed the First Amendment was important, and not because we didn’t want the government stopping us from speaking– but because we wanted to actually have freedom of speech, thought, and expression.
There was a time when we would not have tolerated anyone infringing our moral right to express ourselves.
There was a time when we would have noticed that allowing our employers to punish us for our speech is as dangerous, if not more dangerous to our society, than if the government had taken the same actions.
There was a time when we recognized the importance, and the value, of being free to express our opinions, even when those thoughts and expressions were offensive or repugnant to others.
There was a time when we recognized the dangers of suppression of speech and opinions, and recognized that the harm of suppression was an evil far greater than the harms that come from unpopular, unpleasant speech.
There was a time when the media understood the importance of free, unfettered speech.
But this is no longer that time.
This is a time when we seek out those who say things we don’t like, and we demand punishment. We treat expression and words as if they are so harmful, so detrimental to our society, that they dare not be spoken. And we demand that our most powerful organizations– the corporations– be put in charge of punishment for these offenders. We have taken corporations, who don’t have to answer to any court, or have any amendments to limit their actions, and we have asked them to be in charge of our most sacred right.
If you are only blaming the corporations, think twice. Because it is our friends and neighbors who have asked for it, and our media outlets who push the corporation to wield the sword.
Congratulations America, and Happy Fourth of July. Let Freedom Ring.