I want to take a moment today to introduce you to the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. For those who don’t have a copy handy, I’ll make it easy and give it to you now:
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.
Got all that? Absorb those words, let them jostle around in your head for a few minutes, get comfortable with them. This is probably the most over-quoted but least understood Amendment in the Constitution. People claim it every time they find themselves facing consequences for things they’ve said.
As someone whose job it is partially to enforce rules of behavior on various forums and community sites, this is a problem very near and dear to my heart. It’s important that everyone know and understand the following basic concept:
The Constitution governs what laws the US Government may pass/enforce. It does NOT dictate the actions of individuals or private companies. What does this mean though?
It means that if you post something on a forum or website pretty much anywhere that violates the posting rules of said site, or just happens to anger a moderator in a bad mood can delete your post, comment, whatever. They can deny you access to post on said forum or site too. And guess what? Your First Amendment rights have not been violated.
This also means that what you say in the real world can have very serious consequences. Tell your boss to go jump off a bridge. Start yelling at a mall security guard. Heck, go to a movie theater and yell “Fire!” See how much protection you get. Guess what? You’ll have to face the consequences.
The first amendment provides you the ability to say whatever you like (within the limits of the time, place & manner restrictions) without government interference, but that right doesn’t protect you from the consequences of what you say.
I’m tired of the assumption that having something as a “Right” means it protects you from all consequences. It doesn’t. All the right guarantees is that the government may pass no law abridging that specific right.