While at a campaign event for Luther Strange, the Republican candidate running in the Alabama special election to replace the senate seat Jeff Sessions vacated, President Donald Trump took some time to address the surge of NFL players who have chosen to kneel during the national anthem.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag,” Trump said, “To say, ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”
Ignoring the political firestorm that would ensue for any owner that decided to take such an action, Trump’s statement brings up an interesting point.
For the most part, an employer legally can fire you for any view that you hold and express. The right to free speech only stops the government from acting against you. You can say (nearly) anything you want without being arrested, but you’re not protected from repercussions in other parts of life. One of those repercussions is that you could be fired.
There’s something ethically troubling about that. On the one hand, I don’t think it’s wrong to fire someone if they are expressing certain extreme views. If an employee’s words or actions imply that they’re willing to incite violence against a group, an employer has a right to let them go, especially if that employee is working or serving members of the said group. The same would go for lying, especially if it impedes the flow of work, or any form of slander.
But on the other hand, what about the sort of peaceful expression of views that is displayed in this instance, where the players are simply choosing to express their views without trying to bring harm to anyone. It feels wrong that a player should be fired because he has a view that differs from the owner of the team, but is otherwise doing what his job requires, and mostly doing it well — the exception to that last bit of course being the entirety of the Jets (#GoPatriots).
There isn’t a reason why someone should be able to fire me because I’m a Republican, Democrat, pro-life, pro-gay rights, creationist, socialist or whatever else as long I show up and do what I’m supposed to in a fair and appropriate manner. Capitalism is based off the free-flow and sharing of ideas. If we begin to block or silence dissenting opinions in our work places, we halt that flow. We need to be able to speak up and suggest new ideas, or be able to object to ideas that are in poor taste. If we put the fear of termination into the mix, we’re hurting capitalist values.
There is reason to push for the first amendment to be extended into the workplace, or at least parts of it. As we’ve willfully segregated our friends, our neighborhoods, and our media into “left” and “right,” I think we have a need to leave at least one place open where we can encounter others with opinions outside of our own. Even if those opinions stay tucked away during business hours, at least we can see that everyone isn’t the demon the “other side” portrays them to be.
Of course, if I spend my entire day in the break room telling people about how I think we should build a wall and don’t get any work done, I’m still going to get fired since I’m not doing my job. I would get fired for the same behavior even if I was in there talking about my offsetting collection of clown dolls (they’re priceless antiques, OK? The market has been exploding since “IT” came out, and I’m not about to let something I spent my entire college savings on go to waste). That’s not a matter of free speech, that’s a matter of not doing your job.
If a belief prevents you from performing your job, that’s another thing too. Obviously, if you’re anti-abortion, you probably shouldn’t be working in an abortion clinic. If you’re an atheist, you might not want to work at a church. If you’re anti-education, you should listen to this plan that I have for a company that totally isn’t a pyramid scheme. We’re branding it as “the feudal model.” It’s completely unlike any company you’ve ever seen. There isn’t a CEO — just a king. Once you’ve worked hard and recruited enough peasents, you might be promoted to a lord. Also, there’s a lot of wheat.
We need to extend the rights of free speech into the private sector. Maybe not all of the rights, but enough to be given certain protections, If we don’t, how are we any better than a feudal society?