Free Speech Has Consequences

The concept of “free speech” is more complex than most people realize. It’s much more than being allowed to say whatever you want.

Many people simply get that wrong.

The comediennes

I’m not going to name names because a) I don’t want to give anyone more press, and b) the underlying issue here is timeless and the specific players are irrelevant.

The initial scenario was simple: comedienne A made a public statement about a specific political figure that many felt was exceptionally offensive. As a result her employer chose to fire her.

Comedienne A had every right to say what she said. This is, indeed, free speech in action.

Her employer also had every right to fire her because of it. Though the actual reasons for the firing are irrelevant, it appears that her free speech had a consequence.

In an unrelated scenario not long after, comedienne B made a public statement about a specific political figure using a specific profane term that many feel was exceptionally offensive. Her employer (so far) has not fired her.

Comedienne B had every right to say what she said. Again, this is free speech in action.

Her employer has every right not to fire her. Again, the actual reasons for the decision are irrelevant.

In both cases the comediennes faced backlash for their statements. In both cases the comediennes apologized publicly. In both cases the employers face backlash for their actions, or inaction.

And in all cases, everyone had the right to say or act exactly as they did.

You and I as the potential audience for both these comediennes and their employers also have rights. We have the right to agree or disagree. We have the right to support, object, or ignore, and act accordingly as we see fit. Our actions are also part of the consequences the comediennes and employers face.

Rights come with responsibilities

Having the right to say something doesn’t absolve you of having to deal with the consequences.

It’s unclear — and once again irrelevant — whether either of these situations was deliberate or accidental. What’s clear is that what was said had consequences.

With your right to free speech comes your responsibility to deal with the results.

Think first and judge whether or not you’re willing to deal with the fallout of what you’re about to say. If it’s important enough, perhaps it’s worth dealing with; losing your job might even be on the table. You are free to make that choice.

But you are responsible for having made a choice, and dealing with the consequences, whether you think about it beforehand or not.

Fairness is irrelevant

That comedienne A got fired where comedienne B did not caused many to say it wasn’t fair.

Fairness doesn’t enter into it. These are two different people speaking to two different audiences with two different employers. They have two different histories, and their employers likely have two different sets of criteria for evaluating the situation that lead to two different results.

Again, there is no requirement that the consequences resulting from what you have to say needs to be fair.

The only “requirement” is that you deal with those consequences — whether you like it or not.

PS: This has nothing to do with the First Amendment

Frequently in the United States when people feel that their free speech rights have been violated in some way they reference the First Amendment to The Constitution.

It rarely applies.

The amendment:

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.

Note the first five words: “Congress shall make no law“. If congress making a law that prevents free speech is not part of the discussion, then it’s not a first amendment issue.1

In our comediennes’ cases there was no law preventing them from saying what they each chose to say. This is not a First Amendment issue.

They simply said what they had every right to say, and as a result reaped the consequences.


1) Generally, I believe, you can expand this to attempting to use existing laws, as opposed to creating new ones, as well as extending past the U.S. congress into local legislation as well. I’m no constitutional scholar, however; it’s just supposition on my part.