These days increasing groups of people are mad as heck and aren't going to take it anymore. And that includes language stronger than heck, of course.
Teachers in several states strike to protest everything from salaries to autonomy. Students stage walkouts in sympathy with victims of Columbine, Parkland and the other schools in between where gun-toting maniacs have shot up the place. Employees sue over losing their jobs because of something they proliferated on social media. And on and on.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution famously protects the rights of freedom of association, peaceful assembly and speech. Sounds pretty basic. But if you think it's that simple, you're fooling yourself.
The courts have ruled that both teachers and students have rights of free speech. But in the case of Tinker v. Des Moines, while the Supreme Court agreed that students and teachers do not shed their constitutional rights when they enter the schoolhouse door, speech within the walls of educational institutions is not quite as free as it is outside.
Reaction to student walkouts on the anniversary of the Columbine shooting has run the gamut. Many of those who have long wished that the younger generation would demonstrate a degree of conviction about something, anything at all, are delighted. Others counter they have a lot to learn, not to mention that they should be concentrating on learning instead of walking out of class at the behest of some organizers who may not even be among their peers.
There is also the question as to just how many unbridled rights minors have. That can be a fine line. In general, children as minors are not considered autonomous in making their own decisions. But there is also the attitude that they should have some input in educational matters in which they have an obvious stake.
Social media has accelerated the trend toward expression of potentially damaging viewpoints. Charges are fast and furious over posts of a cruel nature having ostensibly driven insecure individuals to suicide or fomented a spirit of cyberbullying. Enter employers who have monitored employees' posts and emails to the point of punitive measures.
The courts thus far have generally held that there is no “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment — which isn't the same as saying it's fine to proliferate extreme views. But you can't be blackballed for making a jackass out of yourself.
On the other hand, there is no constitutional right to free speech in the workplace. Certain forms of employee speech are protected by labor laws, such as union organizing. But the First Amendment won't protect you from saying something your company doesn't like.
If you don't believe that, try telling off your boss and threatening to leave the company. Then let us know how that job search is going and whether you've found a lawyer willing to take your wrongful termination case.
Jim Bailey’s column appears on Thursday. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.