Private sector freedom of speech has limits, nevertheless, the spirit of the First Amendment remains essential to a flourishing, free society.
The United States of America is a uniquely distinct country due in large part to the freedoms protected by the Constitution. The First Amendment of the Constitution states, “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.”
The American public is well versed in the concept of free speech, even though many individuals mistake freedom from government intervention of speech with freedom from private sector intervention. The Founders framed the Constitution in such a way as to protect citizens from potential threat of tyranny, but the Founders also understood that government must limit its intervention in employer-employee relations. In 228 years since the signing of the Constitution, the federal government has grown to an extraordinary size with seemingly unlimited reach. American politicians, bureaucrats, and Constitutional scholars must interpret the Constitution as it relates to current events including, but not limited to, the recent Neo-Nazi protests in Charlottesville, Virginia and Google’s firing of an employee, who wrote a “controversial memo.”
Interpretation of the Constitution is typically classified in two very different schools of thought. The originalists view the Constitution as implied that law should be guided by the meaning of the United States Constitution as it was written. The other group, non-originalists, imply the courts “need some flexibility to depart from the text, structure, and original intent.” Without knowledge of these competing legal philosophies, it is difficult to understand the complexity of judicial interpretation. Many Americans are often undereducated regarding the Judicial branch and its role in government. “More than one in four Americans (28 percent) incorrectly thinks a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling is sent back either to Congress for reconsideration or to the lower courts for a decision.” A proper understanding of judicial interpretation is vital to a free and prosperous people.
This past weekend, white supremacists from numerous groups rallied in favor of keeping a General Robert E. Lee statue in a public Charlottesville, Virginia park. The thought of Neo-Nazis and the KKK openly rallying is reprehensible, yet in the United States of America, the First Amendment is not limited to only those with love in their heart. The Charlottesville City Council was aware of the planned white supremacist rally. The Governor of Virginia should have prepared an organized strategy for the inevitable clashes between the white supremacists and counter protestors, including the violent, far-left “Anti-Fascists,” which may have prevented the violent clashes resulting in numerous injuries and the death of Heather Heyer. As a descendant of Holocaust survivors, I can only imagine the terror of being confronted by a Neo-Nazi. This is not to say that I wish to silence those whom I disagree with. My ancestors did not lose their lives so that I may one day live with the feeling of hatred toward another person. “Make peace, not war” is the most influential motto in my opinion as no teacher, parent, family member, or friend advocates for hatred of others due to a differing point of view. The First Amendment grants individuals the right to express their feelings so long as they remain nonviolent, unprovocative opinions.
Activist groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as recently as 2012 acted to protect free speech regardless of the speaker. “The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Cape Girardeau on behalf of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (TAK). TAK members had planned to place handbills on the windshields of parked cars on Sept. 28, until they discovered this is considered a crime by the City of Cape Girardeau.” Even prior to the recent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend, “the ACLU’s chief argument was that the First Amendment precludes governments from blocking public protests based on their viewpoints, however loathsome those views may be.” The ACLU goes further saying, “what happened today had nothing to do with free speech.”
Freedom of speech preservation is imperative to a free society with free-flowing ideas. White supremacist rhetoric is undoubtedly loathsome and hateful, nonetheless, the concept of outlawing hate speech provides for a “slippery slope.”
Recently, Google fired software engineer James Damore for internally circulating a document “raising questions about cultural taboos and how they cloud our thinking about gender diversity.” In a Wall Street Journal essay, Mr. Damore explains his use of scientific evidence to partially explain the male-female discrepancy in tech, while also acknowledging that there may be an unconscious bias against women. Damore claims, “my 10-page document set out what I considered a reasoned, well-researched, good-faith argument, but as I wrote, the viewpoint I was putting forward is generally suppressed at Google because of the company’s ‘ideological echo chamber.’” The danger of an echo chamber is the creation of a shared spirit and the limitation of discussion. Damore sought to break through the echo chamber and provide an internal critique of the culture of suppression. Google management eventually succumbed to intense pressure because “the mob would have set upon anyone who openly agreed with me or even tolerated my views.” This case is not protected under the First Amendment because freedom of speech does not extend to employer-employee relations, however, it is telling that Google silences those with unpopular viewpoints no matter how “well-researched” they may be. Google’s self-proclaimed mission “is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” yet Google seeks to dismiss contentious, “useful” arguments within its own company. No institution can function without critique, and Damore merely sought to express his freedom of speech to encourage change. Private sector freedom of speech has limits, nevertheless, the spirit of the First Amendment remains essential to a flourishing, free society.
Freedom of speech is often critiqued by many for its protection of “hate speech,” yet few mention of it as it relates to their ability to critique their government free from consequence. The Founding Fathers envisioned a country where individuals could peacefully critique their government, within reason, without fear of prosecution. The First Amendment will continue to come under assault by those seeking to control our speech. It is our responsibility to remain vigilant in order to protect our natural and Constitutional right to speak freely.
Mitchell Nemeth is pursuing his Masters of Law at the University of Georgia. He has been featured in the Red & Black and The Arch Conservative. His Twitter handle is @mnemeth88.