Skip to content

Freedom of Speech

April 21, 2014

Recently the new CEO of Mozilla was forced to resign. He had been on the job for about 20 minutes, or so it seems. The reason his departure is important is not that Mozilla now has to find a new CEO, it is that his departure makes a number of statements about who we are and where we are as a society. This is one that I find myself a bit conflicted in how I feel, so it’s worth commenting on.

He was forced out because of a donation he made back in 2006 or so to a group that was opposing the Gay marriage act in California. Proposition 8 was attempting to ban Gay marriage in California by changing the California state constitution. I am not going to get into the details, I am somewhat agnostic on the subject in general but am probably more of a traditionalist if pressed. In any case, he made a sizable donation to the cause and the law passed, until it was overturned by the California Supreme Court 6 years later.

This is democracy at work. If society doesn’t like a law, or a direction society is taking, the correct method for showing that dislike is to change the law by majority vote. This is the bedrock of our country, and you have to respect it. If enough people feel a certain way, changes are made. They aren’t always good changes (Obama’s election/re-election comes to mind), but the only way we get to continue as a free society is if this process is respected and protected.

To look at this as a freedom of speech issue, which is what a lot of the public argument is focused around, you really have to remove the subject matter (gay marriage) and look at the overall circumstance. A person expresses their views on a topic that seems to generate a lot of public emotion. Some time later their views are used against them and they are forced to take some action that they probably would not have normally taken (resigning in this case). One side of the public argument claims his 1st amendment rights have been violated. After all, he has the right to say what he wants wherever he wants and pretty much however he wants. And indeed, that is, on the surface, what the 1st amendment guarantees.

This is one of our fundamental rights, and one of great importance. Brendan Eich (the Mozilla guy) has the right to his opinion, and if he wants to donate to a cause, run a giant billboard expressing his views, run TV spots, whatever, he is free to do so. So aren’t the gay rights activists who forced him to resign because of his views violating his right to free speech?

Well, not really. Actually, not at all. And this is where my conflicted feeling comes from.

This guy is being forced out of the company he helped start because he expressed his political views with a donation to a cause. I am very uncomfortable with the idea that you can have a personal opinion and get hammered for it by a rather militant and probably minority group that disagree with him. That said, I am also a firm believer in the 1st Amendment. We hear this war cry a lot from both sides of the political spectrum, ‘Freedom of Speech’. Usually it is ‘[Someone] is violating my freedom of speech!’ because the individual said something and didn’t like the reaction.

While I don’t like the idea that someone can be pilloried by a militant minority group for something they said, and I think the hypocrisy of the left is breathtaking (Obama had the same public opinion at the same time, going on record in 2008 as being against gay marriage), and I am very uncomfortable that it is harder and harder to have an opinion that is different from the militant left, this is NOT a 1st amendment issue. His 1st amendment rights have NOT been violated.

In this country, you are free to stand on the street corner in Washington DC, or anywhere, and holler as loud as you can that you are not a big fan of Obama. You cannot be arrested and charged for having this, or any, opinion about anything. Try going to North Korea and standing on the corner in front of the ‘Kid Kim’ palace and proclaiming loudly that you think he looks like a giant panda and has the IQ of a blade of grass. Nobody will ever see you or your extended family ever again.

However, if you make this public stand on the street corner (we are back in the US now) and someone throws an egg at you, your 1st amendment rights are still intact. You may want to pursue an assault charge against the egg thrower, but if your entire case is based on the idea that said thrower of pre-poultry has violated your right to free speech, you will lose.

Simply put, you are free to express your opinion without having to fear government action against you, but the 1st amendment does not protect you from public reaction to your expressions.

Let’s take a wildly-improbably scenario as an example. Suppose you decide to start a group that is in opposition to what the liberals are up to. Then let’s suppose some politician decides to have the IRS audit you because of your opposition. This would be a violation of your 1st amendment rights as it would be the government taking action against you for your opinion. Probably never happen though……..

If, on the other hand, you start said group and a militant minority group of private citizens decide to start a national boycott of your business as a result, your 1st amendment rights are not being violated. It may seem like you are being persecuted for expressing your opinion, and in fact you are, but the 1st amendment only protects you from being arrested or otherwise harassed by the government, not private citizens. You have to take the good with the bad when it comes to our constitutional rights, that’s the way it works.

I keep up with the cartoon XKCD, which if you don’t, you should. The creator remains reasonably unpolitical, choosing to make statements about human interaction in general. He occasionally strays into uncharted water, as you will see if you look at his work, but 80% of what he does can be explained. If you get hooked, you can go back and look at all of his work, starting with the very first.

He recently published this one regarding the idea of freedom of speech:

I think it makes the point.


From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: