This week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision protecting free speech for all. In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the court ruled that free speech doesn’t end when people work for the state. Government employs millions of Americans including teachers, professors, coaches, tutors, and administrators. And the Kennedy case – popularly known as the “praying coach” case – asked how government can regulate the personal expression of the people it hires. Joseph Kennedy, a former high school assistant coach at his local public school, brought the case. But this isn’t just about one coach, and it’s not just about a post-game prayer. The decision comes down clearly in defense of the people. The ruling shows that the category of regulable “government speech” is very narrow and the realm of protected speech is very broad. Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) raised that point in our amicus brief:
Subject to certain narrow limitations, speech rights of public employees are protected by the First Amendment. The power of government to speak on its own behalf and the authority of a government employer to manage its own operations are cabined by the First Amendment’s prohibition against conditioning public employment on surrendering constitutional protections.
Casey Mattox, a First Amendment attorney and Vice President for Legal and Judicial Strategy at AFPF noted the following: “With free speech under attack, it’s encouraging to see a strong ruling in defense of people’s Constitutional rights – and the progress they make possible. Nearly one in every six people work for the government in our country. The court’s ruling makes clear that government, as an employer, cannot punish the people it hires for their own personal expression. That’s the case whether it’s a prayer after a high school game or a controversial view from a college professor. Protecting First Amendment rights for some protects them for all.”
The First Amendment protects and guarantees every American’s rights that are the foundation of our country: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, right to peaceably assemble and the right to petition the government. These civil liberties guard the basic rights of Americans against government censorship and empower every person to take stands to drive progress. At Americans for Prosperity, we protect the rights of every American to speak their mind, come together in protest, report the news and access information, share diverse perspectives, and hold those in power to account. Yet, we know we still have work to do based on the following:
40% of Americans today report keeping quiet, holding back from expressing their true beliefs for fear of reprisal. By way of comparison, during the McCarthyism of the 1950s-only 13% of Americans reported self-censorship. 43% of Americans feel less secure about their freedom of protest than they did just two years ago. One-third of Americans say that they are personally worried about losing their jobs or missing out on career opportunities if they express their real political opinions. And nine in ten public universities restrict speech through unconstitutional speech codes.
We know American democracy is strongest when its citizens can think, speak and work together freely to discover new solutions to the challenges facing our country. Please visit www.americansforprosperity.actcentr.com and sign the letter entitled “Join the Defense of Free Speech.” When we next meet, we’ll discuss specific ways we’re both protecting civil liberties and promoting civil debate. I’m Ashley Klingensmith, State Director with Americans for Prosperity-Pennsylvania. Find us on Facebook by searching @PAAFP and on Twitter by searching @AFPPennsylvania.
Ashley Sisca Klingensmith | State Director | Americans for Prosperity – PA