A timely article on Free Speech and Ozzie Guillen’s comments regarding Fidel Castro. While the First Amendment protects against government intrusion restricting free speech, the same does not apply for private companies. Should it?
Read the full Washington Post Blog article here.
By Joy Freeman-Coulbary
While the All-American football star Tim Tebow is as widely admired for his religious displays and social conservatism as he is for his athletic prowess, baseball great Ozzie Guillen’s foray into political free speech has not been as well received.
Guillen, a former Major League Baseball player and current manager of the Miami Marlins — who was once fined by the Chicago White Sox for making a homophobic slur — received a five-game suspension without pay for professing his admiration for Fidel Castro in a recent Time magazine interview. He returns to his ballclub Tuesday even though some critics have called for his dismissal.
The Venezuelan-born Guillen told the magazine that he “loves” Castro. He said he admired the way the dictator had survived in power for almost 60 years, despite U.S. opposition and numerous death threats. Unlike his slur; which was abhorrent, Guillen’s recent political comments epitomize the very essence of what freedom of speech is supposed to protect — dissent and controversial political opinions.
There’s a legacy of professional athletes being publicly cannibalized for their “radical” political views. For instance, heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali was banned for a number of years from boxing for his avoidance of the draft and expressed opposition to the Vietnam War.
Controversy followed Tommie Smith and John Carlos for their black power salute at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. And more recently, NFL star Rashard Mendenhall, at 23, lost his million-dollar championship endorsement for questioning on Twitter whether the exalted celebration of Osama bin Laden’s death was indeed dignified.
While the First Amendment grants constitutional protection from governmental restriction of free speech, private companies can constitutionally intrude on their employees’ freedom of speech inside and outside the workplace. Courts have held that however chilling, private companies can curtail employee freedom of expression.
Yet, in maintaining our free society, even without an express constitutional mandate, private companies can and should uphold the First Amendment. Tebow’s trademark genuflection after he scores a touchdown has been dubbed by fans as “Tebowing,” reflecting his express devotion to Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior, according to Sean S. O’Neil for Religion Dispatches.
In his best-selling book, “Through My Eyes,” Tebow shares his family’s pro-life story while making his Christian faith the cornerstone of his football success. Tebow’s public celebration of Christianity, which has made him a wholesome role model to many while unsettling others, is expressly protected by the First Amendment. And it did not cause him to skip a beat in terms of lucrative endorsement deals, which include contracts with Nike, Jockey International and FRS Health Energy.
The disparate treatment of Tebow and Guillen raises the question of whether highly public, powerful corporations should be able to shape and mold public discourse by selectively censoring employee speech.
Given the benefits derived from private industry’s almost unfettered ability to lobby the public sector and sheer ubiquity in our everyday lives, it seems only fair that these large, often multinational corporations have a reciprocal obligation to respect the constitutional rights and freedoms of the public they serve and from whom they clearly derive great benefit.
Read the rest of the blog post here.