Home / General / Again, On What Free Speech Means And What It Doesn’t

Again, On What Free Speech Means And What It Doesn’t


We seem to have to go through this every year or two, and based on some of the commentary surrounding Brendan Eich apparently we have to again. (Incidentally, what I said about Althouse back then applies to Glenn Reynolds as well — he thought that Shirley Sherrod being fired based on an unquestionably inaccurate presentation of her views was awesome, ending the question of whether he’s arguing in bad faith here. And he’s still calling her a “racist” and “asshole” years later.) Anyway, to reiterate what should be obvious:

  • Free speech rights go beyond what is protected by the First Amendment. The free speech rights of employees should ideally be accorded more respect than the law requires.
  • It is equally clear that these rights cannot be absolute, starting with speech that is relevant to someone’s ability to do their job.
  • Power, supervisory authority, and the extent to which one’s views represent an organization to the public all matter. It would obviously be unreasonable to fire someone charged with cleaning the restrooms solely because they gave financial support to Prop 8. It would be perfectly reasonable to fire someone for such support if they want a job writing for The Advocate. Between the obvious cases there’s a grey area, but not every case of someone being fired for expressing particular views is exhuming McCarthy.
  • Eich is obviously much more comparable here to the Advocate writer than to the custodian. A CEO views inherently represent the organization he’s
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    working for, and he has supervisory authority that makes him having bigoted views legitimately worrisome.

  • To state the obvious, if Eich had donated to an initiative campaign dedicated to the re-criminalization of interracial marriage, or to an anti-Semitic group, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation, because virtually nobody would be defending him. Nobody really thinks that CEOs have some kind of unlimited right to free political speech, and the arguments being made in defense of Eich generally tend to minimize the importance of gay and lesbian rights.
  • There is a reasonable response to the previous point, which is that in 2008 opposition to same-sex marriage was regrettably a majority position; not everyone who held a bigoted position then can have it held it against them permanently. Fair enough, but also irrelevant to Eich, who has never repudiated his donation to the odious Prop 8 campaign (which, as djw says, goes way beyond just nominal opposition to same-sex marriage.) Eich still holds these views in 2014; had he simply said he was wrong you’d almost certainly still have no idea who he is.
  • And, finally, once again Eich wasn’t fired. He resigned. If he doesn’t feel that he can stay on and continue to defend his bigoted views without reflecting badly on Mozilla, who am I to disagree? And the questions being asked of him were perfectly fair, not some kind of McCarthyite smear campaign.

…First link fixed! Thanks to Roy in comments. He has the usual excellent discussion of the wingnut meltdown over this at the Voice.

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