There is an interesting debate in this country right now about the freedom of speech. The President of the United states has declared that NFL football players are “sons of bitches” and question their patriotism when they express themselves on the sidelines during the national anthem.
Recently someone challenged my support for the protests of Colin Kaepernick and others by assertion that there was no protection of free speech in a private business.
This was a curious assertion, as if the NFL held secret games far from the public eye.
It is hard to imagine a more public forum than an NFL game, where every aspect of the environment is thoughtfully geared toward getting more eyes upon it.
Cheerleaders, Jumbotron Scoreboards, animation and theme songs all help to make the spectacle and message the product of the NFL for public consumption, often delivered in stadiums paid for by public tax dollars.
Oh, and remember that the NFL is also a non-profit, non-taxed organization. Amazing to consider, really.
The assertion that one does not have the legal right to protest in a private business is true, however.
Like many legal truths it is also an example of a historical wrong.
It is the challenge to these legal truths that reveal the best of American patriotism.
It is adherence to the letter of the law that often leads good people to support terrible laws.
While it is legally correct that employees do not have the right to free speech on in private businesses, it is also true in history that black people had no rights under the law.
The Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution stated as much.
The Dred Scott decision reinforced the letter of the law, asserting that black people were property and would never be citizens.
Does the letter of that law mean that it was right to deny African Americans liberty? Would anyone consider the enforcement of slavery a good thing because it followed the letter of the law?
Doubtful, I think.
Homer Plessy boarded a segregated train in Louisiana to challenge the letter of the Jim Crow Laws that denied him the right to sit in a whites only train car.
The Supreme Court denied his challenge to the law, upholding “separate but equal” accomodation for another fifty years.
Who would argue that Jim Crow was right because it was legally correct?
Only those who do not breathe freedom the same way as the Founders saw it.
Remember the Founders? Those criminals who broke the law, attacking tax collectors and throwing tea (…private property…) into Boston Harbor?
Were they wrong because the letter of the law said otherwise?
Doubtful, if you love American independence.
And do not forget that Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed thirty times before he was thirty years old for breaking the law. He wrote of a moral law that guided him, as he sat in jail in Birmingham.
He even quote St. Augustine, who said ” An unjust law is no law at all.”
So asserting that there is no legal right to protest as an employee of a private business is correct.
But it is uninformed of history.
It is also not representative of great Patriots.
To be free we need a good sense of history and patriotism.
This country was not founded by fearful, law abiding men.
Your support helps to keep Historydojo bringing you great stories from history.