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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Diane Stafford: Freedom of speech limited at private-sector workplaces -

This article makes an important distinction that U.S. citizens must understand when discussing our First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Note the wording in that amendment; emphasis added: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

That statement--which also applies to local and state governments in the U.S.--restricts the government from censoring or limiting the speech of individuals (as well as corporations). It also restricts the government from requiring certain speech.

Our right to freedom of speech is important in a democracy so we can comment on and criticize the actions of our government and political leaders and representatives. We must be vigilant about safeguarding that right.

But that right does not apply to private individuals, property owners, employers and organizations. It does not even apply to the news media. With some exceptions based on court interpretations of the Constitution and various laws, non-governmental entities may and can restrict and prevent speech within their jurisdiction.

To be simplistic, you can "censor" whatever other people say in your home, and the government can't stop you from doing that or require you to allow them to speak. And, likewise, a private employer can "censor" what employees say or write in the workplace--and the government can't interfere with that right of employers.

The bottom line: The freedom of speech guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution is not absolute. It applies only to what our government can and can't do.

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