Free Speech and the Private Sector

Free Speech and the Private Sector
by pragerfan

October 2, 2021

Response to the Involuntary Libertarian on the following excerpt from this article:
The pattern is consistent and immediately recognizable: A statement is made or a position is taken by those in power. It is factually suspicious, if not transparently false, yet no one is permitted to question it. Real scientific inquiry is forbidden. Data that supports the official narrative is falsified, and that which refutes it is suppressed. Scholarly papers are withdrawn from publication. Social media companies censor anyone who tries to present accurate information or alternative theories. Corporations fire outspoken employees. Friends and family shun loved ones who refuse to toe the party line.
While there is not a word here that I disagree with, so what? I could give at least three examples off the top of my head of each of the above, but ultimately it doesn't mean anything because neither you nor I nor most people are in a position to do anything about it. So I'll just use my favorite example — "corporations fire outspoken employees."

The corporation will argue that sure, you can be as outspoken as you want, but we can also conduct our business the way we see fit. Unfortunately, legally they are mostly correct — the courts have bought into this pablum hook, line, and sinker, and like their esteemed leader Chief Justice Roberts, refuse to get involved. My Dad and I have argued this ad nauseam. Unusual for someone on the Left, he takes the position that "a business can do whatever it wants until a law is passed that says it cannot." So who will pass a law saying that a company can't fire outspoken employees?

What is an outspoken employee, anyway? Should we have a law that says you can only hire or fire based on job performance? What if Snuffy who is the best worker the company's ever seen likes to dress up as Adolf Hitler for weekend costume parties and Snuffy's girlfriend posts a picture to Facebook? Should the company be able to fire Snuffy because he's a brand risk? Of course, if Snuffy partied as Chairman Mao or Josef Stalin, how many would care? Snuffy likely would be celebrated as fashionable and chic!. So who decides?

Reason eloquently observes that in woke corporate America, there's no statute of limitations on wrongthink. Neil Golightly, a senior Boeing executive and former Navy pilot, was forced by Boeing's diversity cabal to resign in 2020 over an article he wrote back in 1987 arguing what was then a mainstream and broadly supported position — women should not be allowed in the military's combat arms. He concluded:
On a 5,000-man aircraft carrier where 19-year-old sailors are working 12, 15, sometimes even 20 hours a day on a blistering, howling flight deck where a simple mistake can kill even during routine peacetime operations, there is simply no room for the problems of sexual harassment, rape, prostitution, pregnancy, love triangles, and adolescent emotional crises that have plagued most Navy supply ships and tenders since the Navy began its experiment in coeducation in the 1970s.
This position was held by majority of Americans as recently as 1991. To be fair, there are plenty of agreements and rebuttals here. One commenter, who goes by the name of "Dov Sar," writes:
It is truly a shame that Mr. Golightly was forced to resign over this article. I was a (female) Navy A-7 pilot at the time and went on to fly F/A-18's. I disagreed with the article and even wrote a rebuttal, but he made some excellent points and he had the right to be heard; in fact he still has the right to his opinion, or at least he should have the right to his opinion. To lose his job over an article he wrote 33 years ago is a sign that our country is becoming a totalitarian state.
The aviatrix correctly recognizes that people have a right to be heard, a right to their opinion, and of course, the right to have that opinion rebutted! And that is the very essence of debate. But the woke culture of today, as Dov Sar states, seeks to turn America into a totalitarian state where you have neither the right to speak nor the right to be heard. Left-wing wokeness is not primarily promoted by government entities which could be challenged in court; rather, it is enforced by private companies to whom the First Amendment does not legally apply. So the government and the Left abridge freedom by having corporations do their bidding, with no accountability. That is the essence of the government-corporate complex.

But I digress. What was Boeing CEO David Calhoun's reason for firing the C-suite executive — 33 years after the article was published? "I want to emphasize our company's unrelenting commitment to diversity and inclusion in all its dimensions."4

For Left-wing elites, however, offenses are excused because of the passage of time. Virginia governor Ralph Northam (D) kept his job after it was revealed he had dressed up in blackface in 1984.

"Rules for me but not for thee — that's the greatest hypocrisy!"

If you are on the Left, you can say what you want, you can do what you want, you can be what you want, and there is rarely any price — employment or otherwise — to be paid.2 Conservatives, with a few well-positioned exceptions such as U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, must toe the line of political correctness for fear of being forced to resign.

Because no one can really say where free speech lines should be drawn, neither can we agree on how to apply any free speech protections, especially in the private sector. We can well imagine a statute that protects political speech, where companies cannot legally fire employees for engaging in such speech unless they can prove that employees either represented the company in their speech or engaged in said speech on company time, equipment, or using company accounts (e.g. posting a tweet using @companyname).

Sounds easy, right? But wait! Anytime you try to limit a company's ability to do what it wants, when it wants, the way it wants, with regards to employees you're accused, by the Left no less, of being against free enterprise and free markets.1 Conservatives often join this criticism as well: I know this because I was one of the those conservatives — free enterprise uber alles.

When I saw social media's rise, what social media did to President Trump, and that social media companies permit terrorists such as the Taliban to speak, but shut down the elected President of the United States, my views markedly changed regarding big corporations.

Companies never acknowledge in writing that they fired employees for political speech because this would be subject to legal discovery; managers simply meet in person, discuss it verbally, and the reason given will be something milquetoast like, "Snuffy just isn't a good fit for the company anymore." They'll support that with documented warnings that they issued to Snuffy because he "...failed to reflect the company's culture of respect and inclusion." Translation for those who don't speak corporate-speak — management disagrees with Snuffy's political speech.

If the company does not fire Snuffy outright, he's blackballed — ineligible for other positions or promotions. The company then does everything it can to make his life a living hell until Snuffy decides to quit out of frustration and disgust — and the company is off the hook — voila! Problem solved.

Legal remedies are useless because before Snuffy is fired there is no legal harm done, and after he is fired he is unlikely to prevail because of at-will employment.3 Anyway, who wants to spend their life savings suing a faceless corporation? Snuffy moves on to the next job — if he's lucky enough to find one — and large companies continue to trample on political speech with zero accountability.

And what about Americans? Rather than the First Amendment, made-in-China junk sold as woke products and $6 cups of woke coffee capture our collective imagination. Indeed, as Wesley Yang writes, "Orwellian dystopia...exists in certain niches and pockets and leaves most people only indirectly affected in their day to day lives." In other words, Americans don't care until loss of speech affects them personally — and by then it is too late.

I have argued that one solution is to teach young people financial independence so they don't need the jobs that corporations offer. However, according to a recent survey, high school students by a two to one margin "support free speech, except hate speech." Those who don't understand free speech can hardly be counted upon to defend it.

1 The Left supports only that free enterprise which furthers its political agenda.
2 Unless your ousting deflects unwanted attention during a hysteria — anyone remember Al Franken?
3 This is why we need the just cause standard of employment. That I find myself now agreeing at least in part with NELP on this issue proves once again that politics makes for strange bedfellows.
4 If Boeing paid nearly as much attention to designing aircraft as it does to diversity and inclusion, perhaps 346 people wouldn't have died in the 737 MAX crashes.