Freedom of Speech?

Why is it that freedom of speech is only applicable to certain groups and in certain situations? Why can one group’s emblems and symbols be deemed offensive and other be deemed ok? Finally, how can one group of people’s beliefs obstruct this “protected right” just because they happen not to think in the same manner? I pose these questions to all of you in the hopes that it will make everybody think.

Now for the actual blog.

Recently, I had a rather unpleasant encounter with the suspension of freedom of expression. Those that know me have seen my tattoo. The Bad Religion symbol that is ever present on my right arm. My goal of getting this tattoo was two-fold. One, Bad Religion has been one of my favorite bands for a long time, and I greatly respect the member’s intelligence and logic. Secondly, I am a very hardcore Atheist, and am not ashamed or scared to say so. I thought that this would be a great way to pay homage to a great band as well as make a strong statement that i am not ashamed to be a free-thinking Atheist. Well, today I came face to face with the reality of true closed-mindedness. I was at work, like any normal day, when I receive a surprise call from the Human Resources Department. I was asked to come and have a conversation with one of the HR representatives. I was told that a customer had complained to the store manager about the symbol that was tattooed on my arm. Frankly, I was pretty surprised, even though looking back at how much shit I took from theists when I didn’t have the tattoo, I really should not have been. The more and more that we talked, the more I realized that I was going to have to cover it up for work from now on. I left the first meeting with the HR Representative a little pissed off. I really did start my thinking process though for this blog and now for many more. I was called into the office one more time before I left, and told I would have to cover the tattoo starting tomorrow when I reported for work. Needless to say, I was pissed. I did my best (and Succeeded) not to blow up on the HR representative, because it was not her fault. I left that meeting feeling very angry and also feeling as if my rights were violated.

This is where the 3 questions that I posed earlier come into play. Why is it that freedom of speech is only applicable to certain groups and in certain situations. Yes, I know that I was at work and a different set of rules tend to apply in the professional world. I also work at a place that values diversity and this tattoo was technically not against any policy that we currently have in place. There are people at my work that have tattoos of crosses, the crescent and star, and the Star of David: None of which have ever been told that they must cover them up. Would it be fair if they had to cover up their symbols of faith and belief? Of course not. This is protected under the first amendment and by the workers handbook at my place of business. I feel as if there is a different set of rules for those that believe in something and those that do not. If somebody lodged a complaint against these tattoos, they would not have to cover them, citing our religious diversification policy. Atheists are not protected under this policy, because we are not seen as a religion (Which is true, we are not a religion). Would I have to cover this up outside of the workplace? Never, because I am protected by freedom of speech. If someone told me to cover it up outside of my workplace, I would tell them to go fuck themselves and utterly refuse to do so. This restriction of belief seems to set a very dangerous precedent that it is ok to express your views about certain systems of belief at work and not ok to do so about others.

Secondly, why can one group’s symbols be deemed offensive and another’s be deemed ok? My symbol, which I took from a great band, has been deemed too offensive to work with. What?! Oh yeah, the ss and the Swastika Tattoo the guy that came to the store had on was soooooooo much less offensive, many people complained and yet he was not asked to leave, or even talked to. Why? Because as much as I and many others may despise it, it is still constitutionally protected. In this case, my Bad Religion Tattoo was deemed more offensive than a Nazi symbol. Wow, the dangerous presidents seem to be stacking up!

Finally, how can one group of people’s beliefs obstruct this “protected right” just because they happen not to think in the same manner? My right to have this tattoo has effectively been taken away by people that do not think the same way that I do. It is very evident that the Christian front is still controlling too much of the country if every time they think something is wrong; they get to change it, either directly or indirectly. I would never expect a person to cover up a tattoo of a cross, or the Star of David, or a picture of Jesus, because I have no right to tell them to do so. Apparently, the First amendment is something that these fundamentalists use only for their own gain and do not respect people of different viewpoints under the same standard. They cry and protest when their rights are infringed, but will turn around and prevent others from speaking their mind too. This is truly the hypocrisy of democracy.

Lastly, I want to say that this group is now even more important to me, and I clearly see why we are necessary in the world today


Brian James Key

One thought on “Freedom of Speech?

  1. The workplace issue is something that I’m going to call a “Petty Power Problem.” The workplace managers (HR department) have a certain amount of petty power. They also have an interest in presenting a certain face to the public (we are clean cut, helpful, beautiful people) but at the same time want to benefit from the impression that they’re multicultural and progressive… But apparently this comes with a certain amount of cognitive dissonance.

    They want all of the benefits of appearing multicultural but none of the drawbacks—i.e. the multicultural policy is aesthetic only. It has zero bearing on actual multiculturalism and therefore is instantly revoked in the face of friction.

    The business as a money-making-machine doesn’t actually care about the spirit of this policy, it’s just a means to an end and not as compassionate as it looks at first glance.

    Would I have to cover this up outside of the workplace? Never, because I am protected by freedom of speech. If someone told me to cover it up outside of my workplace, I would tell them to go fuck themselves and utterly refuse to do so.

    And, wonderfully, there is nothing that thou can be threatened with outside of thy work (without breaking the law, anyway.) At work thou can be threatened with being fired—outside of work nobody has the power to threaten thee with anything legally.

    When the Government’s place to guarantee certain rights collides with private interests, though, things get interesting. The First Amendment brilliantly requires that Congress make no laws that support or deny free expression and to wit it actually obligates representatives of that Government to guarantee that that their involvement does not violate that decree. If the Government has absolutely no claim into this private interest (the business) they have no authority to tell them what to do in these circumstances.

    After all, the owners of this private business have their own right to free expression and also control over their presentation, which in fact directly collides with the presentation and free expression of their employees. This lands the tension directly in the court of employee rights vs. employer rights and the application of freedom of expression between. Sometimes the Government has to arbitrate (this is what civil courts are for) but the First Amendment does not tell them how to do it.

    Courts have ruled both ways in various incarnations of this problem. But in a very general sense the businesses usually come out on top because an employee must have the resources to actually stand up against this sort of behavior if they want to change anything—and how many workers of any vein can do that?

    This inherent imbalance of power has a profoundly chilling effect on expression, which is why we have other legal doctrines to help defend us in the workplace such as the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 – – but even this doesn’t quite cover body modification like tattoos. (I keep coming back to the tattoo because I really need to limit my discussion, this issue is staggeringly vast.) The fact that the tattoo can be covered to accommodate requests by the employer may sway a court’s decision on the subject; but so does the fact of hiring even though they would have been fully aware of the tattoo in the first place—it’s not exactly invisible on thou, after all, I’ve seen it.

    This is the case of a morally ambivalent company using a flimsy policy to garner good will and community brownie points while not risking anything with it.

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