Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

Free to speak, but not at work

Free Speech | Conservatives increasingly find they must hide their views on the job, eroding the value of free speech
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 8/15/17, 03:31 pm

Freedom of speech, although sorely tested in court, remains intact, legal experts contend. Americans are at liberty to speak their minds. But often they don’t—at least not at the office. 

Why not?

Google may have the answer.

In a 10-page memo sent to fellow Google employees in July, software engineer James Damore suggested biology—not inherent sexism—could play a role in the male-to-female employment disparity at Google and within the tech industry as a whole. He also said a corporate ethos that elevates racial and gender diversity to a moral imperative, and the company’s questionable means of rectifying the gender gap, serves to silence those whose ideology does not align with company policy.

As if to prove Damore’s point, Google CEO Sundar Pichai responded by firing him Aug. 7, just three days after the memo became public and went viral, calling his opinions “offensive and not OK.”

The incident highlighted workplace tensions that cause employees—mostly conservatives—to self-censor in order to avoid public shaming, or worse, if they don’t toe the leftist ideological line that bigotry and biases are the foundations for all employment and social disparity.

As a private company, Google is free, within legal limits, to establish policies dictating workplace engagement, noted attorney and National Review columnist David French.

“But just because something is legal does not mean it’s right, and the result is a crisis in the culture of free speech in the United States,” French wrote in an Aug. 8 commentary. “In field after field and company after company, conservatives understand that the price of their employment is silence.”

Even private conversations in public places could get employees in trouble with the boss, if thought police like actress Lena Dunham have their way.

As she disembarked a recent flight at New York’s JFK airport, Dunham overheard two American Airlines flight attendants speak disparagingly about transgenderism and children. She took to Twitter to report the incident.

“American Airlines employees headed out talking transphobic [expletive deleted],” Dunham tweeted. “Thought company should know what beliefs uniformed employees espouse.”

The company thanked her for the information and said it would investigate the private conversation, news outlets reported. Company officials reportedly have not been able to substantiate Dunham’s claim.

Damore has spent his first week of unemployment—free from the Google “echo chamber”— giving interviews and defending his thesis in the low key, but data-studded, tenor stereotypical of some, but not all, male software engineers.

“There’s a very strong idea that the left ideology is the only ideology possible. We should be able to express differing opinions,” Damore told CNN Tech. “I’m a centrist, and they’re calling me a Nazi. That is a real problem.”

Alliance Defending Freedom Alliance Defending Freedom Judge Ruth Neely

From one judge to seven others

A Wyoming magistrate censured in March by the state’s high court for honestly answering a reporter’s 2014 question about same-sex marriage is appealing her case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the petition filed Aug. 4, attorneys for Judge Ruth Neely are asking the high court to reverse the decision that “unconstitutionally targets religion for disfavored treatment” and “raises a significant free-speech issue.”

Although the Wyoming Supreme Court’s 3-2 decision did not remove Neely from her job as Sublette County magistrate, it effectuated that outcome by demanding she perform all weddings, even same-sex weddings, or none at all. The court also said Neely’s claim her faith precludes her from performing gay weddings “undermines public confidence” in the court system.

The ruling established a religious litmus test for being a Wyoming judge and stymies judges’ free speech rights outside the courthouse, argue Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Neely.

The U.S. Supreme Court could choose to delay a review of Neely’s case, pending the resolution of a related case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, according to attorneys. The high court is scheduled to hear the Masterpiece case by December and issue a ruling by June 2018. —B.P.

Associated Press/Photo by Mary Altaffer Associated Press/Photo by Mary Altaffer Milo Yiannopoulos

Unlikely free speech defense?

An American Civil Liberties Union transgender attorney has called out the organization for defending right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, who is gay, in his free speech case against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Some speech, Chase Strangio claims, isn’t worth defending.

“Though his ability to speak is protected by the First Amendment, I don’t believe in protecting principle for the sake of principle in all cases,” Strangio said in an Aug. 9 Twitter post.

Even though Yiannopoulos’ provocative rhetoric is “wrong-headed” and “hurts,” it remains constitutionally protected speech, James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV Project, said in a statement posted on the ACLU website in response to Strangio.

Yiannopoulos is contesting the transit authority’s policy against advertising that attempts to “influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions.” With help from ACLU attorneys, Yiannopoulos is suing the authority for refusing to accept advertisements promoting his book. 

The Strangio-ACLU in-house debate highlights a glaring free speech irony.

While asserting certain “vile” people, like Yiannopoulos, do not deserve the ACLU’s defense, Strangio decries “the ability of marginalized communities to protest.” Could viewpoint discrimination like Strangio’s be an example of why some groups lack a prominent sounding board?

“The constitutional principle here, of course, is that government can’t censor our speech just because it doesn’t like what we say,” Esseks said. “But we’re not representing Mr. Yiannopoulos just out of an abstract principle. We’re also representing him because free speech is crucial to progress in civil rights movements.”

But there is one word the ACLU will not defend—“No.” Refusing to provide services for same-sex weddings has put Christian bakers and florists on the receiving end of the ACLU’s financially crushing lawsuits, because they said the indefensible. On that, Strangio and the ACLU can agree. —B.P.

States rally around Ten Commandments monument

Bloomfield, N.M., is a small town taking on a big opponent—the American Civil Liberties Union. But 22 state attorneys general and two governors have come to the city’s aid in its fight to keep a small, privately funded Ten Commandments monument on city hall grounds.

An amicus brief filed Aug. 11 by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asks the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify its Establishment Clause doctrine related to Ten Commandment displays on public property. The brief cites two 2005 high court decisions that are at odds with each other. The conflict has led to disparate decisions by lower courts and “encourages costly and time-consuming litigation against governmental entities and actors.”

The Bloomfield Ten Commandments display sits among monuments memorializing the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, and the Declaration of Independence—all privately funded. Two residents represented by the ACLU claim the Ten Commandments display is offensive and exclusionary. They sued in 2012 to have it removed. The city appealed to the high court in July. —B.P.


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Bonnie Pritchett

Bonnie is a correspondent for WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and the University of Texas School of Journalism. Bonnie resides with her family in League City, Texas.

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