Today I saw a post from the Facebook of the It Gets Better/Trevor Project about a public school teacher who is facing potential consequences over some anti-gay comments on Facebook. I feel that’s a totally reasonable action, considering that the comments are public if the school administration was able to find out about them, and that they could be as potentially harmful for students as if he had said he doesn’t think black people should get married, or doesn’t believe in interracial marriages, or Jewish marriages. I was therefore shocked to see how many people were saying that this was violating his first amendment rights, that even though they disagree with his position, OBVIOUSLY, he had the right to say it on his Facebook without any repercussions. And that discriminating against him for choosing to publicly voice his beliefs is just the same! as discriminating against people for being gay, non-Caucasians, or what have you!
Seriously, I’m almost too irritated to write this blog post. What the hell? These are all people who support the Trevor Project, so I’m guessing they consider themselves “enlightened”–it just goes to show you that even people you agree with can be ignorant of basic things like the Bill of Rights.
This crops up anytime someone loses their job, or their sponsors, or faces some kind of employment-related consequence due to exercising their ability to speak a bit too freely for the tastes of the people who give them money. People say, they have the right to do whatever they want in their private lives! It’s a violation of free speech! Blergedy-blerg-blerg.
It’s simply not true.
- The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America says that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. That’s it. It doesn’t promise you that you can go around running your mouth in public and not get fired from your job from it. It really doesn’t. It says that Congress can’t make it illegal for you to have an unpopular opinion, to voice any kind of opinion, to have an opinion counter to what the government may think you should have. You can’t get hauled off to jail (unless you break slander or libel laws, but that’s another story).
- If your job finds out about what you did, it’s no longer private. If you want your right to privacy, you need to protect your right to privacy by keeping things private. Social media is not private unless you lock down your page and don’t allow access to people that you work with (coworkers, students, teachers, clients and customers, management, the list goes on). When you let in the public, it becomes a public space. If you keep your profile private and share things with trusted people in your private life only, then your boss will never, ever know whether or not you violated policies, because guess what? It’s PRIVATE. Now, it would be a different story if your boss hacked into your Facebook or your e-mail or your protected Twitter when you had it set to private and that’s the only way anybody you work with could see it; that is a violation of someone’s privacy.
- Discriminating against someone because of what they are is not the same thing as someone facing consequences for something that they do. Almost every business or place of employment has Ye Olde Employee Handbook that details the actions that you are not allowed to perform in order to keep your employment in good standing. The business gets to decide that as a condition of giving you money. They’re not allowed to say, “You can’t work here because you’re gay,” and they’re not even allowed to say, “You can’t work here because you disagree with gay marriage,” but they are definitely allowed to say, “you can’t work here because you publicly expressed some opinions that we feel are a negative representation of us as an entity.”
- Not allowing businesses or employers to create policies that protect them from harm is just as bad as not allowing individuals to speak their mind. Imagine a world where you, as a boss, couldn’t do anything if one of your employees was, say, telling all of your customers his philosophies being in favor of white supremacy. Even if he wasn’t doing it at work–maybe he was out in the world talking to your customers, and because of it, customers were complaining to you and telling you that, sorry, as long as he’s employed there and is going to continue to spew hate speech, they can’t continue to patronize your business. So you can’t create a policy that protects your business from your employees’ “free speech,” and you go out of business. Is that fair? After all, as a boss, you aren’t asking for people not to have these opinions, or even not to express these opinions, just not to express these opinions in a place and in a way that would harm your business. If someone has a real problem with that policy, they don’t have to work for you. Businesses and employers should be allowed to protect themselves–if the employee’s freedom of speech impinges on the employer’s freedoms to run their business and project the image that they want of their business, then the employee has to concede to the policies that they set when they accept employment. The employer has the right to expect certain behavior in return for a salary and the right to protect the image of the business (and thus, their livelihood).