Freedom of Speech, or “The Right to get Reassigned”

I’ve recently started paying more attention to the global gay media. Having followed Alvin McEwin’s Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters for quite a while 1, I’ve finally moved into the rather more varied and general Joe. My. God.

Recently featured on both of these blogs 2 has been the case of Mr Jerry Buell, former “Teacher of the Year”, Social Studies Department Chair and Liberty Counsel client du jour.

Mr Buell has been suspended from his teaching job for making several posts on his Facebook page, namely:

I’m watching the news, eating dinner when the story about New York okaying same-sex unions came on and I almost threw up

and

And now they showed two guys kissing after their announcement. If they want to call it a union, go ahead. But don’t insult a man and woman’s marriage by throwing it in the same cesspool of whatever. God will not be mocked. When did this sin become acceptable?

Both of these quotations are taking from the following video, which is courtesy of his lawyers, Liberty Counsel, and their Youtube channel.

Now, I’m not going to take issue with Mr Buell’s views, as I respect his right to say whatever he wants as a fellow citizen of the Internet.

Nor am I going to take issue with the history of his counsel, including their involvement in Madsen v. Women’s Health Ctr. or their publication of the delightful little tome Same Sex Marriage: Putting Every Household At Risk.

Nor am I going to address the appropriateness of his making his students aware that they are the “creations of God”, or make snide comments about his intent to make sure that his students know that he “loves them”. 3

No, what I have issue with starts at 02:06:

Randi Kaye: 4 Mr Mihet, I know that you’ve said that this is a First Amendment issue as well, and that your client has a right to free speech, but the school is calling for an ethics violation here, certainly an investigation surrounding that. Do you… What would be your response to how the school is handling this?
Harry Mihet: You know, whatever the school’s ethics rules are, they cannot purport to supplant the First Amendment. If the First Amendment does nothing else, Randi, it protects the right of all Americans, including public school teachers like Mr Buell, to engage in robust public discourse about issues of the day, and to express their opinions about those issues without fear of reprisal for what they think or how they say what they think.

Now, here’s my issue.

I’m interested in the First Amendment to the US Constitution primarily as an outsider. Not just to America, but to the whole concept of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech. It’s an interesting clause, which says some very pertinent and important things, extremely tersely and unambiguously.

It does not, however,

protect the right of all Americans … to express their opinions … without fear of reprisal for what they say of how they say what they think.

The text begins, rather plainly:

Congress shall make no law …

Oops. Do you see where my problem is here?

A decision on how to apply an ethics policy upheld by a school district in Florida isn’t an act of Congress, neither on a local, a state level nor a federal level. 5 A First Amendment action would seem to have to be directed not at the Constitutionality of an action, but at the Constitutionality of a law.

Which kinda leaves an obvious question – which law would be at stake here?

Not being a legal scholar, I shall leave my musing on that topic aside, and consider the flip side of that quote about the right of all Americans.

Now, I’m just going to be blunt here.

What the hell do you guys think you got with this paragraph? ‘Cause if you were expecting a ‘right to free speech,’ you seriously missed the mark.

The First Amendment is a ‘right to speech free from Government censorship,’ it’s not a ‘right to free speech.’ It doesn’t guarantee your safety from reprisal for what you say, especially not commercially 6, editorially or personally. People are free to fire you, write (true) nasty things about you or stop talking to you if they don’t like what you’re saying.

So, essentially, what I’m saying is: welcome to the rest of the world. Like here, in Australia. We don’t have a right to free speech either. At least you guys have a Bill of Rights.

Note: While I was writing this post, Mr Buell was reinstated to his old job. Looks like someone had their point made. Still, I am unsure as to whom…

Notes:

  1. It’s well worth a read, if you don’t mind getting the same talking points a few times, particularly when it comes to the National Organiszation for Marriage.
  2. And in the mainstream news as well
  3. However much I might desperately want to.
  4. I believe? I really with that these fun dies would attribute their videos properly…
  5. The Supreme Court in the US held in 1925 that the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment means that the First Amendment applies to all levels of American Government. It’s rather an interesting decision – Find out more at Gitlow v. New York.
  6. Especially if you live in a state with At-will employment. Oops, that’s everyone but Montana. Sorry.

Posted in: Blog

Written by David

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