Saturday, October 4, 2014

Free Speech, First Amendment, Responsibility and Consequences

Free Speech, First Amendment, Responsibility and Consequences

I've read many articles about free speech this week, but most really didn't tell me anything about free speech. Everything I read just demanded the right to free speech and ranted on about how much they believed in free speech. As a blogger it's not something to which I haven't paid attention. As a writer I've always understood the significance of words, especially with respect to the Internet. Nothing ever disappears on the Internet. It's there forever, which makes the concept of free speech even more complicated.

I've learned a little, but still not as much as I need to know. In any event, here are a few links I found that helped me understand how free speech is viewed in various ways.

This particular piece was published on a web site called First Amendment Center. It's about a local Bucks County blogger who worked as a school teacher in the district where Tony and I pay taxes...heavily. I remember this on the local news and at the time I didn't pay much attention to it. Although the teacher didn't mention names, she slammed her students indirectly on the blog, exercising her free speech as a blogger. The results were disastrous for her.

Munroe, 31, of Warminster, who had been an English teacher at Central Bucks East High School since 2006, had filed suit June 22 in federal court alleging that her freedom of speech had been violated. Her attorney, Steve Rovner, said the district had notified his client of its intention to fire her.

School board president Paul Faulkner read a statement saying the decision had nothing to do with freedom of speech but stemmed from the board’s “obligation to have satisfactory teachers in its classrooms.”

This past July, a federal judge ruled that the school district did NOT violate the school teacher's free speech.

In a Friday judgment that blocked the teacher’s lawsuit from going to trial, U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe wrote that the blog failed a long-standing judicial test that balances a teacher’s free speech rights against the interests of a school district to operate efficiently.
This next piece is about a blogger being sued for exercising his right to free speech. A colleague of the late Andrew Breitbart wrote a blog post that didn't leave a government worker, Shirley Sherrod, all too thrilled. So she sued the blogger for defamation and emotional distress.

Backed by large news organizations including the The Washington Post Co., the New York Times and Dow Jones & Co., which have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the case, O’Connor’s attorneys argued to have the case dismissed under a D.C. statute that aims to prevent the silencing of critics through lawsuits. A federal district judge rejected their motion to dismiss, citing timing and jurisdictional issues, prompting the appeal.

And, this article is more generalized. It talks about how bloggers need to be aware of the fact that people are becoming more litigious and if bloggers aren't careful they can, indeed, be sued for what they post. In other words, the blogger has a responsibility to know and understand this.

The Internet has allowed tens of millions of Americans to be published writers. But it also has led to a surge in lawsuits from those who say they were hurt, defamed or threatened by what they read, according to groups that track media lawsuits.

"It was probably inevitable, but we have seen a steady growth in litigation over content on the Internet," said Sandra Baron, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center in New York.

Although bloggers may have a free-speech right to say what they want online, courts have found that they are not protected from being sued for their comments, even if they are posted anonymously.

This article ends on this note:

"The first thing people need to realize, they can be held accountable for what they say online," Baron said. "Before you speak ill of anyone online, you should think hard before pressing the 'send' button."

There are many links to articles just like those above, and you can spend hours reading through them and the one thing you'll find in common with all of them is that bloggers do have free speech, as it stands. No one is taking this away from them. However, with the free speech comes responsibility and consequences. And this article on a web site about parenting I'd never seen before sums this up in a simple, accurate way far better than anything else I've read so far. It also gets into the Duck Dynasty homophobia issue I've posted about here more than once, which I hadn't planned on finding during these searches.

Alright, America, check it out: If you're going to repeatedly refer to "freedom of speech" rights as your sole argument for or against something, you might want to make sure you understand what the First Amendment actually protects.

What's the First Amendment? Yeah, I thought so. You see. This is the problem. You don't read the actual documents. You sure didn't listen in government class, but then you jump up and down squealing from your pedestal of glory how the famed bigot from Duck Dynasty had his "freedom of speech" rights violated. Or enforced.

This line, however, is the most important.

And now you get this: America, the First Amendment is the original source for the "freedom of speech" promise and it says this: "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" (Source).

It does not say: "There shall be no repercussions for saying stupid things."

It does not say: "One shall not be fired for saying things that piss your employer off or cause him/her harm."

I don't think we'll ever see an end to the discussion on free speech. In some cases I think it comes down to entitlement. That there are those who believe they can criticize freely, but they are above criticism. And in their attempt to exercise free speech they feel no one can touch them. It's the old wild west theory as it applies to the Internet. But in each case I've read that deals with these complicated free speech issues, the one thing that always remains the same is that with free speech always comes consequences you'd better be willing to face.  

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