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I’ve noticed a fair amount of commentary about the firing of Business Insider’s CTO after his archive of racist, misogynist, and generally stupid tweets were discovered and brought to light. More than a few people have said that his firing is a “worrying potential infringement” of his right to free speech. It is not an infringement.

I’d like to clarify that the First Amendment applies strictly to what the government may or may not do.

“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.”

The law in no way addresses what private employers, private businesses, and private individuals may do on private property. In fact, the only major laws that govern freedom of speech in the private (non-government) workplace are laws related to anti-discrimination and harassment.

The First Amendment gives you the right to say what you want without the government inhibiting you (with a few notable exceptions). The First Amendment does not in any way shield you from the consequences of what you say in private life, which means that if you publicly say racist, misogynist, discriminatory, and generally stupid things, you will face the consequences, from the disapprobation of your peers to the termination of your employment and potential non-employment by future employers. Employers are generally free to terminate your employment for any reason except those involving protected rights of non-discrimination. You can absolutely be fired if your public remarks create a hostile work environment for your coworkers and/or fall afoul of the core values of your company.

You are free to say what you like.

Others are just as free to refuse to employ you or not based on what you say.


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