Free speech in America: protection from government only?

I was reading this thread on Alex Jones on Quora and noticed this commentwhich starts:

He’s referring to American laws. His examples didn’t really make sense to me, the spray-painting being obvious defacement of private property and the kiddie porn being obvious promotion of illegal activity. Can more knowledgeable Dopers please clue me in?

I don’t understand what you’re asking.

He’s simply saying that when you’re a guest on private property your speech is no longer free. And that all of the internet is the private property of whoever owns it, so there is no legitimate expectation of free speech anywhere online. That’s it.
Well not quite, he also said that if government set up a True Free Speech government-owned online forum, it would soon be overrun with illegal material and have to be closed down, which is probably true.

It basically means, the government can’t arrest you for wearing a “I hate Negroes” t-shirt.

Your employer, however, is perfectly with in their rights to fire you for wearing such a shirt.
It’s freedom from prosecution, but not freedom from consequences.

But can the employer stop you from wearing the shirt in the first place?

That’s not an example of protecting free speech. After all, the government is free to fire you from a government job if you say the wrong thing.

They can force you off the premises unless you take the shirt off, yes.

They can’t come to your house and make sure you don’t put it on (unless you let them, of course).

But when you arrive on their premises, they can refuse to let you in and fire you. (Edit: like mostro said.)

If someone posts your picture wearing the shirt on the internet, they can exercise their freedom the say “You’re fired” even if you never wear it on company property.

But they can’t have you arrested (unless you refuse to leave their property) and they can’t send someone to rip it off your back (unless you consent).

There are certain restrictions from what an employer can do as well - for example, an employer cannot fire an employee for trying to organize a union.

They can’t literally stop you, but they can fire you and not face federal charges:

But federal law isn’t the only law, so a broad statement about what is legal/illegal in the US has to account for state laws, too:

I have been reprimanded for wearing a much less offensive T-shirt. Remember the Big Johnson shirts that were popular back in the 90’s? Those in charge at the big airplane company I work for ruled them offensive and banned them from company property.

What are you talking about?

If a government employee lies at work, or calls people the n-word, of course they can be fired because of their non-sanctioned official conduct.

But a government employee is generally protected in political activity in off-hours. For example, a civil servant can’t be fired for donating to the “wrong” party. In most places, that isn’t true for an employee of a private company.

Things like expressing support for a foreign power with whom America is in conflict.

As you know, the U.S. Constitution only provides legal protection from the government. So in the U.S., a private entity such as Twitter or Facebook can legally restrict any speech it chooses. But, of course, free speech is a much broader general principle for all societies, one that extends beyond the narrow question of the current extent of legal protection in the U.S.

The article (your first link) is discussing the broader principle of free speech on the internet, notwithstanding current law; and it’s clear from early in the article that the writer does understand the limits of U.S. law. The answering commenter (your second link) seems to think that the writer of the article does not understand the current law, and explains it; it is not responsive to the broader questions of principle raised by the article.

What the article doesn’t extend to: should the law be changed, and how?

There’s an case to be made that the social media monoliths such as Facebook and Twitter are so dominant and pervasive in our discourse that it damages the principle of free speech in our society (in the broad sense of the free exchange of ideas, not the narrow legal sense) to allow the boards of such private companies to dictate what speech is allowed. Perhaps they should be regulated to be completely neutral to content, in the same manner that a phone company provides a medium for communication, but does restrict what you can say on the phone - and, of course, also has no liability for what you might say.

ETA: confusing typo, should read

Speaking of legal implications, no the US Constitution offers no protections against private violations of freedom of speech.

But there is a document that does. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

Some critics have argued the Declaration has no force of law, and is only an unbinding standard for all nations. But it does have the quasi-force of law.

It is often cited in disputes involving violations of human rights (private and governmental). And many modern charter of rights are based on it.

It also doesn’t have the right to water, which some people think is an important one now. But some people certainly think it should be amended to include that one.

Also, it does not have an elastic clause, like the US Bill of Rights 10th Amendment, saying the enumeration of rights here shouldn’t be used to disparage other rights. But it certainly should have that too IMHO.


Nonsense! Next you’ll be saying social media sites can not only dictate the language used, but also the content of posts, and ultimately decide whether or not a person can continue to contribute material to the site! Simply unprecedented!

What’s your point? Too cryptic for me.

I see there’s a GD on the issue.

Well, I didn’t but that’s an excellent explanation. Thank you.

That’s Common Carrier status, right?

That would certainly be a conflict with the oath of office for civil officers of the United States.

So, yeah, if you want to view that as a matter of freedom of speech as opposed to an employment condition of loyalty to the United States. One could also be fired from the USG for saying literally nothing, but sending money to ISIS.