Is Free Speech Free?

Is Free Speech Free?


Leonard Zwelling

The advent of cancel culture and the ubiquitous nature of the internet let alone camera phones have just about eliminated the notion of privacy or the expectation thereof. If you say something to anyone, expect it to be heard.

Ted Rall relates how so many people are afraid to speak their minds for fear of being cancelled or fired for expressing an opinion the majority may not like. I believe this cancel culture victimization applies particularly to those people supporting Donald Trump but living in bastions of liberalism (i.e., near water) who have actually been fired for expressing a particular political opinion, even outside of work. This is simply wrong.

I bet you thought freedom of speech was guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. HA! It ain’t free speech if by employing your freedom you lose your job. This is not hypothetical. People have been fired for expressing views unshared by their leadership even outside the office.

A Cato Institute poll in 2020 showed that 50% of liberals thought voting for Donald Trump was a firing offense. 36% of the conservatives thought the same of voting for Joe Biden. As Rall states, “self-censorship is rampant” because of fear of retaliation.

And before you think it can’t happen here, guess who was dragged into the President’s office at MD Anderson when his blog was deemed a threat many years ago? That would be me.

I understand that a singular corporate mindset has its utility in moving a large organization in a given direction, but a difference of opinion is both healthy and the American way. I know, don’t say it in an email. But think about what that says. It says that there really isn’t the right to free speech because of self-editing and elimination of the right to offend. Where would we be as a country without the right to offend? There would be no comedy and I don’t want to live in that country.

You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater unless there really is a fire, but you cannot curtail honest opinion and discussion simply because you don’t like it. That goes for everyone, but especially for bosses. Penalizing people for their opinions is a clear sign of autocracy. The United States does not need this and neither do any of its corporate entities. You don’t like someone’s idea, come up with a better one. Don’t fire someone for expressing an opinion—even if it is that the boss stinks. I was a boss once and I certainly heard that before.

2 thoughts on “Is Free Speech Free?”

  1. Remember that freedom of speech applies only to freedom from government action, not to private individuals and employers. Not that I would fire anyone for their personal opinion or political position; after all, I know of at least one Trump supporter in my employ (at least he’s vaccinated). I also did not fire a Syrian employee several years ago when she sent a virulent anti-Israel email to everyone in the office. So I agree with you in principle, but not about the Bill of Rights. In most states, an emloyee can be fired for any reason, or for no reason at all.

    1. Leonard Zwelling

      Now that’s scary and perhaps that’s the point. Speech really isn’t free if your (private) boss can fire you.

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