SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Can a boss legally terminate someone for his or her involvement in a neo-Nazi rally?
It’s a question that brings up the issue of free speech.
Should groups like the KKK be allowed to spread hatred without repercussions?
KRON4’s Spencer Blake has been looking into constitutional protections afforded to these groups.
There are some limits to what they can say, but KRON4 spoke with the executive director of the First Amendment Coalition who says the vast majority of what happened in Saturday’s rally was likely protected speech.
Anti-Semitic chants, Nazi salutes, and other racist, hateful remarks filled the air at the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend.
Yet, police and the state were constitutionally obligated to allow the rally to happen.
“It’s incidents like this that really throw into sharp relief what kinds of protections the First Amendment provides,” San Rafael First Amendment Coalition Executive Director David Snyder said.
He, along with presumably the vast majority of Americans, is horrified by the actions of the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists, and he strongly disagrees with them.
But he points out that this is exactly the type of speech the First Amendment is designed to protect.
“If minority viewpoints aren’t protected, that means all of our speech, all of our ability to speak is limited,” Snyder said.
Granted, there are some exceptions, like speech that incites violence.
But those exceptions are very narrowly defined, legally, and don’t include general or abstract calls to rise up and fight.
Though the litmus test would have to be applied on a statement-by-statement basis, Snyder suspects the Constitution would protect most of what was said at the rally, meaning the government cannot do anything about it.
That’s why even after social media users identified a University of Nevada-Reno student from photos taken at the rally, the public school’s president made this statement.
Marc Johnson: “We definitely do not support the content of his [Peter Cvjetanovic] message, but we have not constitutional or legal right to fire him from a job or expel him from the university.”
But the First Amendment doesn’t limit what non-government employers do.
“So, if a private employer wants to say, ‘You’re dismissed, specifically because of the comments you made at this protest over the weekend,’ the First Amendment doesn’t have anything to say about that,” Snyder said. “Again, there may be other legal reasons that the firing is improper, but not from a Constitutional standpoint.”
One other important note KRON4 learned from Snyder–in California, an employer cannot fire someone solely based on their political affiliation.
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