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.
1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Despite the simplicity and the power of the words, people seem to get confused often about what the First Amendment to our Constitution actually says and means.
No doubt, reasonable people can have disagreements, but a clear understanding of the First Amendment is important because in many ways it is the foundation of our representative democracy.
There have been numerous national media reports of people having said a lot of things lately for which they have suffered consequences.
Here are a few examples of people facing consequences for their words:
• NBA Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling being fined, suspended and an effort being made to strip him of ownership of the team for talking bad about black people.
• Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson being suspended for a minute for making comments disliked by the homosexual community and for saying African- Americans were happier before they had civil rights.
• Miami Dolphins player Don James being suspended until he goes through sensitivity training because of his tweet expressing outrage for the celebratory kiss gay football player Michael Sams and his friend engaged in after he was drafted into the National Football League.
• Martin Bashir losing his job hosting an MSNBC show after saying some truly reprehensible things about Sarah Palin.
The list goes on and on.
So what gives? What about that First Amendment free speech protection?
The deal is that the U.S. Constitution rightfully protects people from repercussions from the government for what they say. But people who are upset that any of the aforementioned people or others in recent months suffered consequences for what they said have a beef not with the government, but with our free market system.
It was not the government punishing the Miami Dolphins player or the NBA owner. It was their respective sports leagues.
If enough Americans do no like the decisions of the NFL, NBA, any particular television network or any other business, then we through our decisions can impose consequences on them for their actions.
It’s called the free market system. And surprisingly, the people complaining the loudest now about some of the consequences suffered by people for expressing their views purport to be some of the biggest supporters of the free market system.
Last week the elected police commissioner of a New Hampshire municipality resigned after using the N-word to refer to President Barack Obama. In that particular instance, the consequences were imposed by the people of the community expressing outrage over the comments, resulting in the person resigning.
This is not to say the NBA was right or wrong for its actions against Sterling or the NFL for its actions against the Miami football player. I am just saying that Don James has a right to his opinion, but that does not mean he is not answerable to his employer who also has rights.
In most every instance dealing with the issue of speech, the government did not impose any types of consequences. The people and the business community did.
And hey, anyone who didn’t like the outcome has the right to express his or her disdain. It’s a free country after all.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (601) 946-9931.