Thursday, May 15, 2014

Freedom of Speech: The Interplay of the Political and Social Spheres

This is Political Sphere filling in today. I recently saw an interesting blog post at the Volokh Conspiracy on a case out of Texas (KBMT Operating Co. v. Toledo). A pediatrician sued a tv station for defamation based on a news story about her. The television broadcast explained:

A Port Arthur pediatrician has been punished by the Texas Medical Board after the Board found she engaged in sexual contact with a patient and became financially involved with a patient in an inappropriate manner. Dr. Minda Lao Toledo will have to complete sixteen hours of continuing medical education, including eight hours of ethics and eight hours of risk management, and pay an administrative penalty of three thousand dollars. Toledo is a native of the Philippines and has been practicing medicine in Texas for five years.

The television station used the truth defense, noting that all of the facts presented were obtained from public records. However, the television station lost the defamation claim, because although they had indeed only stated portions of the public record, the television station failed to include one important fact. The patient the pediatrician was involved with was not her typical child patient, but was instead a 60 year-old man she was involved with before taking him on as a patient. I think the court correctly decided this case, but in light of the CEO of Mozilla being forced to resign and the owner of the Clippers likely being forced to sell his NBA franchise, this case got me thinking about the freedom of speech both legally and as it relates to the spherical model.

First, legally a person in the United States theoretically has the right to speak freely without worrying about punishment from the government. However, the protection offered by the first amendment goes no further than the government. The right to free speech does not protect a person from losing a job or ostracism. Thus, legally, assuming nothing else contractually protected him, Mozilla was within their rights to dismiss their CEO for a mere $1,000 donated to a cause supported by half of voters in that state eight years before taking the helm of Mozilla. Likewise, again excepting contract provisions, the NBA has the right to force a sale of an NBA franchise for comments made in a private conversation.

However, to remain in the freedom zone on the spherical model, more is required. The spherical model recognizes that the Constitution of the United States only works so long as the people remain true to the values espoused by the Constitution. Therefore, having no protection of freedom of speech (or religion, or bearing arms, or unreasonable searches and seizures, etc.) unless that protection is also honored by society. In essence that means that you have no freedom of speech unless society honors your ability to express your ideas, even when they may be unpopular, you have no freedom of religion unless people continue to support you even if you worship differently, you have no freedom to bear arms if doing so ostracizes you from the community, you have no protection against unreasonable searches and seizures unless people respect your property rights.

This shows the overlap of the social sphere with the political sphere. While we can fight to get into and remain in the freedom zone on the political sphere, all that effort will be for nothing if we have not also changed society to a freedom loving society. I think we should remain open to hearing other’s points of view and explaining the rationale behind our ideology. However, I also feel that we must ostracize those who ostracize others, not because of their viewpoints, but because we cannot have a free society which ostracizes people based on their ideas alone. This is the path to the freedom zone.

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