Tuesday, October 10, 2017

It's Not Illegal to Say Racist Things

The Cato Institute/YouGov poll about free speech I wrote about before found something that many other polls have found: a large percentage of Americans thinks "Hate Speech" is already illegal:
a quarter of Americans, 38 percent of African Americans, and 45 percent of Latinos erroneously believe it is already illegal to make a racist statement in public.
Now why would people think that? I blame the media. For one thing debates about campus "Hate Speech" codes get a whole lot of attention — this may be the bias in favor of paying attention to elite colleges that David has written about in the comments here. But I imagine people vaguely hear about these arguments, with important-sounding people quoted on both sides, and people expelled from school and hiring lawyers and so on, and think that we are talking about actual laws and not school rules.

And for another, people routinely get fired for saying offensive things, or at least when the offensive things they say get reported in the media, and many Americans think that could only be done if the offensive statements themselves were crimes.

Because another thing many Americans falsely believe is that you have some legal protection against being fired for stupid reasons. You don't. Unless you are in a specially protected category and can make a case that your firing was caused by prejudice against your group, you have no legal recourse at all and can be fired for any reason or none. Our system gives absolutely no credence to the widespread sentiment that you have a right to your job.

Other people believe that the First Amendment protects you from suffering any bad consequences for your political or religious beliefs, which is of course also untrue. Your boss is perfectly free to fire you for being a Democrat or an atheist or anything else your boss disapproves of.

I think these polls about Hate Speech reveal, not just opinions about speech, but a widespread misunderstanding of what rights people actually have.


pootrsox said...

One caveat: *my* boss wasn't perfectly free to fire me... because I was an educator in a public school in CT, where strong collective bargaining laws meant I was protected by a rather stringent set of obligations on both sides (district and teachers).

Now, did our district "encourage" people out? Of course! Even worse than the belief that districts or unions protect "bad" teachers would be the PR generated by a public termination hearing.

So our district couldn't directly fire a teacher who sent a note to a guidance counselor complaining that a special ed student looked like she had "three boobs." Nor for the rude memos she sent to one of the administrators. They *could* counsel her; they could create some progressive discipline (like requiring that someone neutral read every memo she wrote before she sent it). Ultimately they made clear that she had better take her retirement or they would indeed begin termination. She took it.

Now, here in VA, I'm pretty certain that the district could have simply kicked her butt out the door for any one of a number of reasons, including (though it wouldn't be worded this way) because she persisted in pissing off one of the administrators.

Right to work states are anything-goes states in terms of firing people. States that allow unions (public or private) not so much.

But you are very much in the right talking about how mistaken too many Americans are about their rights under the Constitution, especially when it comes to speech.

The disgraceful display at William and Mary, where people claiming to be from Black Lives Matter absolutely refused to allow the ACLU to speak at a forum (liberals are racists, said some of their signs?!?!?!?)to me really highlighted some of the ironies inherent in this issue.

"MY speech should be free but yours? No way, turkey!" Especially ironic to me was the statement that one of them read about "where are the rights to speak of the minority voices" (paraphrase obviously)-- when it is the ACLU that has fought so hard for so many minority voices.

People still don't understand Skokie, either....

Unknown said...

By the same token, private colleges are under no legal obligation to give anyone the right to speak--public funding might qualify that, but anyway--just as churches are under no obligation to give atheists a hearing, and private citizens are under no obligation to hear out the Jehovah's Witnesses on their doorsteps.

Firing tenured and tenure-track faculty can be dicey for universities, but it should be pointed out that conservatives have succeeded in getting any number of weird leftists dismissed, as Ward Churchill can testify.