Know Your Rights

I had no idea this morning that I would be writing about ESPN, Curt Schilling, social justice and the Constitution today.  Funny how things work out sometimes.  It all started when I looked on my Facebook feed over my coffee this morning and noticed that ESPN fired Schilling.  I wasn’t the least bit surprised.

Schilling, the former Major League baseball pitcher, always seems to be offending somebody.  Recently he was suspended for comparing Muslims with Nazis on social media.  He is staunchly conservative and has never seen a ‘send’ button that he wasn’t willing to push.  A few days ago he posted an anti-transgender meme on Facebook.  ESPN issued Schilling several warnings prior to this latest instance and this was the last straw.

As I said, none of this surprised me.  He spent the last few days digging himself deeper in the hole with justifications and explanations.  It was pretty clear that Schilling’s days with the sports network were numbered.  I was also very not surprised by the comments that appeared with each social media story that announced his firing.  Abundant in the comment sections were references to how Schilling was denied his right to the freedom of speech that we all hold dear and is one the cornerstones of our governmental system.  I am overwhelmed by the number of people who have no real idea what the right to freedom of speech actually is and actually means.  Simply put, Schilling wasn’t denied his right to freedom of speech . . . he simply had to deal with the consequences.

On a recent trip to Washington, D.C. we took our family to the National Archive where we saw many important documents including the Bill of Rights.  Among the people there at the same time was a group of kids who looked to be about middle school age.  A teacher had several young people around her and she was talking to them about the different rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.  She read the First Amendment and focused on the right to freedom of speech.  She explained emphatically how the amendment guaranteed that them the right to say what was on their minds with out “ramifications”.  She told the youngsters that they had the right to say whatever they want and “nobody has the right to stop you or discourage you.”  The children nodded in unison.  I waited for some qualifications like inciting violence or panic or even the tired old “you can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater” analogy to come up.  I waited . . . nothing . . . the moved on to the right to keep and bear arms.  It occurred to me that teaching children such a narrow interpretation of this specific right set an entire generation up to fail . . . or at least set them up to post embarrassing memes.

The problem I have with the teacher in D.C. and with Schilling’s supporters are that they seem to think that we, as citizens have the right to say whatever is on our mind without the fear of somebody calling us an idiot.   That isn’t what the founding fathers had in mind.  The Constitution guarantees us certain rights will not be infringed or denied by the government.  OK . . . OK . . . I know you have lots of instances of government overreach racing through your mind.  I am talking generally and making a general point so lets generalize here.  In this case the government cannot keep Schilling from speaking his mind on this, or any other subject.  They can’t sensor him . . . they can’t punish him . . . they can’t persecute him.  Remember . . . the federal government can’t do any of those things.  The general public and privately owned organizations and businesses, however, can call him out and cut him loose.  As private citizens, if we don’t agree with him we can use our Constitutional right to freedom of speech to let him know we don’t agree.  Individuals operating a private company like ESPN have the right to disassociate themselves from him when they feel his espoused views aren’t compatible with their goals.  This is what happened to Schilling.

I think the myriad Schilling supporters who point to the Constitution and cry foul over his firing forget about an aspect of our governmental system that we tend to overlook these days.  With our God-given rights comes immense responsibility.  Schilling’s made comments over the years that offended ESPN’s customer base and advertisers and each time he was warned.  Today he was held responsible by the private company that employed him.

Many will complain that losing your job as punishment for free speech violates the Constitution.  Sometimes it is a gray area but in this case it was crystal clear.  Schilling’s ouster was a predicable outcome and a point that the middle school teacher in D.C. completely missed.  The Constitution protects us from our government but it also places the onus  for using those rights responsibly squarely on our shoulders.  It doesn’t screen us from the consequences that might occur when our views, when expressed within our rights, are contrary to other empowered citizens.  Simply put, our Constitution doesn’t protect us when others don’t agree with what we say . . . even if we have the right to say it.

Thanks for reading and sharing.  We’ll talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.

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One Response to Know Your Rights

  1. Benjamin K. Baker says:

    Curtis,

    Though I have a very different view of “Transgender Rights” than yours, you have stated this very well. The First Amendment protects us from the US Government. It does not guarantee that we will not pay a price from Society for our “Freedom of Speech”.

    BKB

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