Is Free Speech Alive and Well? What Do You Think?

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Why you should care

Because when did we become so afraid of opinions?

Join us for Third Rail With OZY, a new TV show presented by OZY and WGBH, where we debate provocative hot topics with experts and celebrities every Friday night. The subject of this week’s show: “Is free speech alive and well?” Tune in Friday at 8:30 p.m. ET on PBS, or online, and be sure to weigh in on social media (#ThirdRailPBS) and/or email us at thirdrail@ozy.com with your take!

Missed the previous episodes? Catch up here!

Imagine a world in which NFL owners fire all their opinionated players — from those demanding more pay to those kneeling to protest what they see as abusive treatment of Blacks by law enforcement. Conservative speakers, meanwhile, stop speaking at liberal arts colleges for fear of rioting students; children across America get expelled from school for refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance; and, to top it all off, Twitter blocks Donald Trump’s account, closing off his spigot for dispersing “the truth” …

Well, that would make for a very different country indeed. And, presumably, not one that most Constitution-loving Americans could abide.

… private schools can say ‘No, thank you’ to the likes of Heather Mac Donald, Louis Farrakhan or Milo Yiannopoulos.

The fact is, Twitter can halt @realDonaldTrump in its tracks anytime. The York family, owners of the San Francisco 49ers, can pink-slip any players they like (barring contractual arrangements). And private colleges can see to it that no conservative rhetoric is spouted from their podiums. “As a matter of constitutional law,” says Kent Greenfield, a law professor at Boston College, “if the Constitution only governs actions of governments or government actors, not private employers, an NFL owner could fire someone in the organization for speaking out in a way that the owner felt was inappropriate, as long as it doesn’t violate their contract.”

Same goes for private versus public schools. Public institutions can’t ban speakers whose views they disagree with — though they have wiggle room in demanding that a controversial speaker’s hosting organization pay for added security, if needed. But private schools can say “No, thank you” to the likes of Heather Mac Donald, Louis Farrakhan or Milo Yiannopoulos.

What’s more, Twitter and private schools are immune to constitutional restrictions. “As a private party, they can use their platform for whatever they want. [Twitter has] a policy that officially accepts all comers, but they could change their policy and say that from now on, Twitter’s only going to be a platform for anti-Trump or pro-Trump speakers,” Greenfield explains.

We too could take the safe route and shy away from the bigger issues, but that wouldn’t be very OZY. Instead, we’re leaning in a la Third Rail With OZY, encouraging our readers, viewers and listeners to chime in — whether by phone, email and through social.

By all means, tell us what you think: Is free speech alive and well?

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