Saturday, February 18, 2006

Our Glass House

Leonidas detects an amount of hypocrisy in much of the hand wringing condemnation of the muslim rage over the Danish cartoon publication. One would believe that here in America freedom of speech was a sacrosanct concept enshrined in the Constitution and that one cannot be deprived of "life, liberty or property" for exercising such a fundamental "right". Think again.
This idea that we must bow with particular depth to the sensitivities of protected classes people pervades our culture. It is embedded in our nation's employment laws. For roughly the last ten to fifteen years, it has been possible for an offended employee in a "protected class" to sue his or her employer because somebody in the workplace uttered speech that the plaintiff found offensive. Pure "hostile environment" cases do not require any discriminatory job action -- the speech itself is tortious if it sufficiently offends the plaintiff that a jury can say that the conditions of the plaintiff's work have changed. Indeed, plaintiffs can collect damages under this theory even if the speech comes from somebody who has no authority, including bottom echelon employees or customers, if the employer does not crack down on that speech. Employers now have to police the speech of their employees or their customers, lest somebody in a protected class be offended. We police what our employees read, write or say, not just on company time but through company laptops, company servers and company networks. We have to do this, or a court can order us to pay huge sums in damages all because of an expressed opinion.

Since almost everywhere outside the home is somebody's place of employment, we now effectively police speech in a huge segment of American society, because we -- meaning supporters of the hostile environment line of employment law cases -- feel that sensitivity to the feelings of "historically oppressed" (protected) peoples is more important than unfettered speech.
Even though it is true enough that tort law here in the U.S. is distinct from criminal law, when one considers that the payment of "damages" deprives one of property, the slippery slope has already been tread upon.



1 comment:

Wadical said...

The common threads are political correctness and protected classes. I think censorship in the workplace is a double edged sword. If a member of a protected class chooses to engage in inflamatory rhetoric and I as a member of a non-protected class complain, the tables magically turn and I am somehow now trampling his rights to free speech. This phenomenon is much more pronounced in government service than in the private sector.