Unfortunately so many people out there with a voice have a severe misconception of the First Amendment and Public Speech it makes me sad. Many times people say things publicly that bite them in the rear, and people come out of the “wood work” to defend them in the name of free speech and the First Amendment. Most of the time it is usually a public figure who says something that most people find wrong , or even offensive. Other times it happens when people speak an unpopular opinion on a privately controlled forum. Believe it or not these two examples really have nothing to do with the First Amendment.
The obvious example on everyone’s mind right now is Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen. Several days ago Ozzie said some things in a Time Magazine interview that could be considered somewhat “unsettling” to many Marlins fans. He seemed to be very pro Castro, even going as far to say “I love Castro”. immediately people began to debate the topic, but when Ozzie’s suspension was announced, people came to his rescue in the name of the First Amendment. One of these defenders (not to pick on anyone) is Jen Floyd Engel, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Ms Engel seems to think that Ozzie and his five game suspension by the Miami Marlins is a First Amendment issue. Actually nothing could be farther from the truth. The subtitle of her article says it all, “What Ozzie said was bad, but Marlins’ disregard for First Amendment is worse.” I have to take issue with Ms. Engel’s article altogether. First of all the First Amendment protects against two basic aspects of speech, the ability to voice or “express” (see Texas v. Johnson) speech and protection from what is known as prior restraint. The First Amendment in no way provides protections from private entities such as business and individuals, it is intended to keep the government from prohibiting speech.
How about a more obvious scenario. Let’s say Acme Widget Company is a leading producer of widget’s and is a very well-known and popular company. During an interview with a business magazine one of Acme’s executives states that the widget’s produced by the company are substandard, cheaply made, and just aren’t worth a damn. He goes on in the interview to insult the people who purchase the product and alienates them. Does Acme Widget Company have the right to terminate this executives employment??? Your damn right they do, and you wonder why? Because the First Amendment protects individuals from government infringement on speech not repercussions from business and social contracts throughout a person’s life. That executive had every legal right to say what he wanted to say without the exercise of prior restraint and fear of government action. Just as the Acme Widget Company has a right to protect its image and somewhat control the image it wants to project.
What about another example that has recently been a hot topic in the national media, and is mentioned in Engel’s column. Rush Limbaugh caused an avalanche of trouble for him and his radio show
sometime back when he referred to a woman, wanting subsidized birth control, as a slut. The national media responded with an uproar, calling for Limbaugh’s head and asking for him to be removed from radio. What happened next was the fact that several of Limbaugh’s major advertisers severed ties with the show and denounced what he said. Did this hurt his ability to project his message? Only time will tell. Did the advertisers violate Rush’s First Amendment Rights? In no way whatsoever. Although Rush has a right to say whatever he wants, he doesn’t have a government protected right to say what he said and be provided with a venue to say it.
Ozzie Guillen expressed his thoughts without any prior restraint (although Ozzie may have wished they had) or fear of government reprisal concerning his opinions and that is what separates our country from Cuba and Ozzie’s home of Venezuela. But as I’ve said before the First Amendment doesn’t shield or shelter the speaker from business and/or social repercussions. If the Miami Marlins feel that Ozzie Guillen has damaged the Marlins product, they have every right to terminate his employment. By allowing anything but that, we violate the Marlins and their owners the right inalienated in every human and explicitly protected by our founding government.
There are two points I want to close with. First of all, I understand that not everyone understands the First Amendment, what it protects, and from what entity (the government) the speech is protected, but I find it sad and disheartening that career journalist and columnist do not. People confuse the right to say or express their opinion with the right to a venue to express that opinion. If no one picks up my article because my opinion is not popular, if several major media outlets “refuse” to publish my column, are my First Amendment Rights being violated?? What do you think…
I would apologize for being blunt and somewhat harsh, but then again I am the Modern Day Machiavelli.