There's a little story from the AP about how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a little upset by the actions of one of their members, Chard Hardy, who has slipped away. Okay, said member put together a beefcake calendar of shirtless Mormon missionaries and is selling it, with some of the proceeds going to charity, and the church elders are in a snit about it. The man who made the calendar was "summoned by letter to a Sunday meeting with a council of elders to discuss his 'conduct unbecoming a member of the church.'"
Hardy's response was expected:
"You see more in a JCPenney catalog," said Hardy, 31, who once worked for Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller and now has his own entertainment company. "I just feel like my right to free speech is being violated."Freedom of speech is one of those things that's become soaked into the American consciousness, which is a good thing. It's one of the few rights that even poorly-educated Americans can remember we have. It's up there with Miranda warnings and freedom of worship.
It's also a hugely misunderstood right, because the 1st Amendment only protects us against government limits on speech, and even that part is limited--slander and libel aren't protected speech, after all. But it doesn't protect us from limitations on speech imposed by groups we belong to, or from our employers for that matter.
To be clear--the Church can't stop this calendar from coming out. But they can toss Hardy out of the church if they wish, and they may give him that ultimatum--drop the calendar, or you're gone. And if Hardy has family still active in the church, that might be a tough choice for him to make, because being excommunicated is a big deal. When the Jehovah's Witness's equivalent happened to me, I lost pretty much all contact with my parents as a result. And my rights weren't violated by that action, because those limitations aren't covered by the First Amendment.
And yet, it seems inevitable that when a private institution takes this sort of an action, whether it's a church disciplining its members or an employer firing someone for bad-mouthing the company online, the person being targeted says "you're violating my freedom of speech," and you know something? I don't really have a problem with that, because I figure, if people are erring in this, it's on the side of more freedom, not less. They're demanding the right to say what they want about what they want, and as long as they're willing to get outraged about anyone trying to limit their grousing options, they have certain expectations of their government. And at least that's a place to start.