The conservative right has been getting “freedom of religion” wrong for a while now, claiming that we are a “Christian Nation” and that there is no separation of church and state.
But now they are turning their attention to freedom of speech over the firing of Juan Williams from NPR. And they are getting that one horribly wrong, too. The right, including Jim DeMint, Sarah Palin, and Fox News, are calling his firing a “chilling assault on free speech” and claiming that it violates the First Amendment.
Say what? The First Amendment says the government cannot stop you from expressing your opinions. It most certainly does not say that the government has to hire you and pay you money to say them.
Since when did conservatives object to a business firing someone? NPR is a business. If I work for a company, and I go on the radio and say something that is damaging to my company, I will almost certainly be fired. It doesn’t matter if that company receives money from the government (and NPR receives a very small amount of its budget from the government). Just imagine if I were a policeman and I went on the radio and insulted the police chief and the mayor. Would getting fired violate my first amendment rights? Of course not. I can say whatever I like and they can’t stop me. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they fired me. The First Amendment does not protect me from being fired.
What makes this especially hypocritical is that the people who are screaming that this violates the First Amendment (which it doesn’t) are the very same people who tried to actually violate the First Amendment. Back in 2007, the Republicans introduced a bill to cut all federal funding to Columbia University. Why? Because the university hosted a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In other words, they object to NPR firing Juan Williams, but they themselves wanted to punish Columbia for exercising free speech (which is pretty much the exact thing that the First Amendment protects).