Thursday, October 20, 2011

is The Right To Free Speech Unlimited?

In reply to American Power: Patricia McAllister Fired by LAUSD: Anti-Semitic Teacher Caught on Tape at 'Occupy L.A.' Protest

Here is the story:

(Ironic last line, if ya ask me...)

Dr. Douglas expresses some very definite views on the matter in his post:
"The woman's entitled to her opinions, no matter how sick..."

"I find McAllister's comments reprehensible. But as one who's been the subject of a three-year campaign attempting to get me fired, I have serious issues with concern trolling bullshit like this."

"The district states a principle, yet abandons it because the teacher is untenured. Thus, being tenured creates rights that are denied to individuals not similarly situated. Ugly or not, the woman was stating her opinion, a political opinion, at a political rally while acting in private capacity. The district's decision reaches into the realm of personal space. And it should not. This is tyranny. They fired her because they could, not because it was right. And there's so much more going on there: McAllister taught small children, so perhaps parents would have been upset, as the Times suggests. Fine. Let the parents pull their kids out of class. Or better yet, let them pull their students out of the school altogether."

"Note how McAllister is not misspeaking when she spouts her hatred. It would have come out on the job, sooner or later. And if the kids in her charge are young and vulnerable, transfer her into the higher grades. If students are offended they'll know without having to be force-fed outrage. They can complain fair and square and the school would have been on solid ground in terminating her for racist, discriminatory speech in the classroom, prohibited by statutory regulation."
Donald Donald obviously believes that free speech is an absolute right, and there can be no abrogating the right of someone to say whatever they wish, without official consequence. It's an attractive idea...

But some feel differently...

From: Free speech -- within limits -
"This newspaper ardently supports the right to free speech, even when that speech is controversial, hateful or ignorant. But no right is absolute, and Patricia McAllister, a substitute teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District, crossed a line with her anti-Semitic comment at Occupy Los Angeles."

"McAllister wasn't at work when she spoke. Though she identified herself as a school district employee, she was careful to note that she was not speaking as a representative of L.A. Unified. And Deasy knows as well as anyone that courts have historically — and correctly — protected teachers' free-speech rights.

But there are limits. As a teacher, McAllister works with a captive audience of vulnerable children. Her comments certainly raise questions about her ability to treat them all equally and fairly. What's more, even if she's been the soul of discretion on the job, as well as kind and evenhanded with all her students, by making herself a public symbol of intolerance, McAllister no longer can serve effectively as a teacher."

"As execrable as her comments were, it might be a different matter if McAllister were, say, a Department of Motor Vehicles clerk. There, she would be dealing with adults who could hold their own, and would have little direct authority over them. It also might be different if she had expressed a controversial opinion that was not an inflammatory attack on a particular ethnic or religious group.

We're reluctant to restrict anyone's ability to express even the most loathsome views openly and publicly. But when a teacher trumpets hateful opinions that could intimidate the impressionable young people she's supposed to be serving, that's not just free speech — it's a performance issue. In speaking out so intemperately, McAllister's ability to do her job was fatally compromised."
I'll note here that I made a similar distinction regarding WHERE someone works as regards another teacher, posted before this story broke (or before I knew anything about it, anyway), saying:
"While I oppose online disputes going offline, there are folks who have a legitimate right to speak to individuals at a person's place of employment, even about online issues--including someone's boss, if that's where it led--assuming the grievance is valid.

Were I a student or parent of a student at LBCC, it's likely that I would request not to be assigned into any of Dr. Douglas' classes, based on what I believe to be bigoted attitudes about African Americans, Muslims, gay folks, and those he deems too far left of center. I wouldn't want to be forced into subjecting myself or my child to someone who espouses such views, and were I a student or parent at that school, I believe I would have both the right and good cause to express my concerns. (Whether it's the right thing to do in a given circumstance is subject to interpretation, of course, and different individuals will likely have different opinions. While I'd speak up if Donald was a teacher or a candidate running for office, I wouldn't if he was a fry cook or a shoe salesman, though I probably wouldn't shop/spend money where he worked even then, just on principle.)

The same principle comes into play in the case of Vicky Knox, who was mentioned by one of the bloggers above. Vicky absolutely has free speech... ...but so do the parents in that school district, whether in support of her or otherwise. Free speech doesn't mean you're protected from having folks disagree with you...or even from folks holding you accountable for what you say..."
The debate is given a good airing in the comments at Libertarian Republican: Nazi-sympathizing LAUSD worker given the Axe by School District, including the following:
Chuck, OCTOBER 19, 2011 1:52 PM:
"Rightfully? Had she not announced who her employer was, thereby associating her remarks with same, you might have a point. Short of that, she has no case to make. If someone working for me was on tape all over the internet saying, "Yeah, I work for Coffer Contracting and I hate me some Jews, and we need to run their asses out of the country.", They'd be lucky to escape getting the shit beat out of them by yours truly, and I sure as shit wouldn't feel compelled to keep paying them to wreck my public image. Any suggestion that it should be otherwise is simply irrational."

Gary, OCTOBER 19, 2011 2:10 PM:
Chuckie only sees the little picture.

What happens when those evil and racist "Tea Baggers" are fired for their hate speech?

KN@PPSTER, OCTOBER 19, 2011 5:58 PM:
Chuck is meta-right -- to the extent that she may have associated her employer with her remarks, they had reason to dissociate from her.

On the other hand, this wasn't just any employer -- it was a government agency. I may not like private discrimination, but it's a right. Discrimination, even against the truly reprehensible, on the taxpayer dime is less justifiable.

And on the third hand, does anyone think that she'd have been fired if she had been speaking in favor of a school bond issue, or in support of same-sex marriage, or for in-state tuition for immigrants?

Even given my earlier statement, I do find the absolutist argument seductive, too. And of course, it all gets tied up in the fact that this woman worked for the government, rather than a private interest, which brings a different degree of scrutiny to bear... Firing her does amount to government censorship of her ideas, and once we grant the government the right to censor her views, an argument can be made that we give them the right to censor any government employee's views, whatever their politics...

Whatever you think about this story now, would your mind change if she had worked for--and been fired by--a private school?... your local pizza joint?...

Does an employer have the right to fire an employee whose outside-of-work behavior reflects poorly on his or her business, and should there be different rules for folks who work for the federal, state, or local government than there are for employees of private schools and businesses?

As long as a teacher keeps his or her disgusting bigotry or other nasty beliefs out of the classroom and off-campus, should there really be no recourse for those who find the bigotry reprehensible, short of removing yourself from the situation--home-schooling or changing schools--assuming that is even possible-- if one is the parent of a student (or the student himself) or finding another job if one is an offended co-worker?

Is there a difference between the freedom to express a thought, and being free of any legal or government consequence after one has done so, and are both embodied in the principle of Free Speech as we understand it?

What about the right of other individuals to speak in opposition to bigoted or other disgusting ideas, including demands that teachers (or anyone) who engage(s) in them not teach (or work) in their community? What obligation does an employer have to their "customers"?

There are limits to free speech... From inciting a riot to libel laws to "free speech zones," it is clear that one cannot say anything one wishes anywhere one wishes without consequence.

I believe that like pornography, there is a line between free speech and offensive speech, and every employee--including government employees--has to avoid stepping afoul of that line, or pass a kind of a smell test when they don't, where "we can't absolutely define it, but we know it when we see it" applies... Firing someone for expressing a conservative, liberal, atheist or Christian viewpoint is different from firing someone for bigoted speech... I trust the American people--in the form of juries, and the judges we elect or appoint--to understand the difference, and to get most of these questions right (though yes, there will be mistakes and decisions with which folks will disagree, just as with every other aspect of our imperfect judicial system.)

As tempting as it is to say all speech is and should be free of legal or government consequence, it's just not realistic... There have to be circumstance-specific standards, and a means to limit the exposure to/of those who refuse to abide by them. One size does not fit all, and each situation should be judged by it's own merits and the standards that apply to it...


Also talking about it:

American Power: Patricia McAllister Fired by LAUSD: Anti-Semitic Teacher Caught on Tape at 'Occupy L.A.' Protest

Free speech -- within limits -

The Devil's American Nihilist Henchmen: Online Disagreements and The Offline World We Live In...

Libertarian Republican: Nazi-sympathizing LAUSD worker given the Axe by School District

Reason Guilty of Anti-ANTI-Semitism: Sub Teacher Fired - Hit & Run : Reason Magazine

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street (video)

Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street from Steven Greenstreet on Vimeo.