Limiting Speech, Legal or not Legal?

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Free speech is an unalienable right of human beings, nonetheless American citizens. However, that inalienable human right is being infringed upon today. Freedom is they key liberty of citizens, and freedom of the press and to peacefully assemble protect that right. Our First Amendment rights have been infringed upon before, and we still see that happening today, but in different ways. The government, however, cannot infringe on your right to free speech. So who is limiting the people?

Freedom of speech is not just a Constitutional right, but a human one. The government shouldn’t be able to trample on a Constitutional right, and they are not they allowed to trample on the ones we are afforded by being humans. The government will never be able to restrict free speech, but there are other people who can. Many people believe that having the right to free speech means they can say whatever they want. And because “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech,” we should never be limited on what we can say, how we say it, where we can say it, and in what context we say it. This is simply untrue.

In this case, the government isn’t the big problem, instead speech is limited by different organizations or private businesses. Many people believe that being shut down by a private company in any way shape or form is an infringement of their Constitutional right to free speech. However, the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law,” which inherently means the government cannot restrict your free speech, but private businesses or organizations can. Here are some things that you might think is an infringement of your free speech, but is actually not.

Being banned from a social media forum or platform

Though this may seem like it is a First Amendment issue, it is definitely not. The government has no say in who gets banned from social media, or deemed as restricted. The only people who have control over this are the people who work for said company. This includes social media such as: twitter, instagram, facebook, youtube, tumblr, or reddit. This also applies for comments or posts that are deleted off of your social media account.

Being fired from a private company for something you posted online

If you work for a private company this is completely legal, and also reasonable. Private companies have a reputation to uphold, and if you as an employee tarnish that reputation by posting something online about your job, they have the right to fire you. Even if you did not post about your job, companies don’t want people that post inappropriate, obscene, disrespectful, or offensive things online representing them.

A university or public group cancels their invitation to speak or present from a controversial speaker

This is where free speech can get complicated. If the university or organization is a private entity, they are allowed to restrict the speech of individual guests or overall prevent them from speaking there.

What if it is a public institution?

Now this is a more complicated situation. According to Constitutional expert Lata Nott, “If you invite someone to speak on your campus and are a public university, you have to respect their First Amendment rights.” Therefore you cannot limit their speech in a manner that discriminates a certain point of view.

Lets say students decide to protest this speaker therefore preventing them from speaking at the school. If the speaker were to sue, they cannot sue the students, because you cannot take legal action against a group of private citizens. Instead the speaker would have to sue the school for a breach of their Constitutional right.

These are all examples of Constitutional limitations of speech. However, most of these examples involve situations with private businesses or companies. What about businesses and companies that are publicly owned by the government? Businesses that are funded or generally a part of the government cannot limit free speech. At least not in a discriminatory way.

You are a government employee and are fired from you job because of something you posted on social media

This can be complicated because government owned institutes are not Constitutionally allowed to fire employees based on what they post on social media. This would be considered an unconstitutional limitation of speech. All the employer can do is make sure that this speech is not keeping the employee from doing their job.

Being arrested for criticizing the government or recording public police activity

This is absolutely a First Amendment issue. “It’s definitely unconstitutional, unless you are trying to incite people to violence with your speech,” said Nott. Even if you are implying a threat, the threat has to be proven legitimate and pose actual intent. Otherwise, being arrested for your speech is absolutely unconstitutional. It is completely legal to record police activity in a public setting, and if you are arrested for doing so, your Constitutional rights are being violated. That is if you were not breaking any laws at the time of the arrest. However, you can be arrested for disturbing the peace while recording. Other than that recording police in a public setting is not illegal.

Losing funding for a program or newspaper from the public university because of controversial speech

Public universities cannot rescind funding from a student publication because the school does not agree or support what is said. Schools do not become private publishers just by funding a student publication, therefore, they cannot Constitutionally limit the free speech expressed on the publication, or punish students for what is said. This was clarified in the Supreme Court cases Tinker v. Des Moines and Bazaar v. Fortune.

In essence speech today is being limited, but not in the way most people think it is. Everybody blames this problem on the government and how they are breaching the Constitutional rights of American citizens. In reality this is an issue facing the people, that is also created by the people.