The First Amendment

There seems to be a great deal of confusion about what, exactly, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution entails.  It seems like every time someone gets kicked out of a Target for wearing an Ayatollah Assaholah T-shirt or has their show cancelled for spouting bigoted nonsense, they cry foul: “Oh, my First Amendment rights are being violated.” (NOTE: I’m not sure if anyone has been kicked out of a Target for wearing an Ayatollah Assaholah T-Shirt.  I haven’t seen one in years, but they were very popular when I was growing up.)

Totally talking to you guys here.

Totally talking to you guys here.

The sad fact of the matter is neither of these are technically First Amendment violations.  Take a gander at the actual First Amendment to the United States Constitution and see if you can find where Target or A&E are mentioned:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The only actor in the First Amendment is Congress.  Private businesses can still happily tell you to STFU.  Interestingly enough, so can individuals.  When Target asks you to leave because they feel the message on your T-Shirt is inappropriate they’re not violating your freedom of speech.  If A&E shuts down your show because they get pressure from advertisers and the public in general, your First Amendment rights have not been violated.  Here’s a handy-dandy guide to the who violate your First Amendment Rights and who cannot:

Can violate your rights:

  • United States Congress

Cannot violate your rights:

  • Everyone else

So, next time you’re worried that your First Amendment Rights are being violated because you want to wear you favorite T-Shirt that says “I ♣ Jews” or one that says “God Hates Fags” and the movie theater asks you to leave, you can refer to the above bullet points to see if your freedom of speech has been violated.  Since a movie theater isn’t the United States Congress there’s no way that theater can be violating your First Amendment Rights.  If Congress came along and asked you to leave the country over those shirts then, yes, you probably have a case.  With a theater, well, not so much.

The end result is pretty simply summed up in comic form:

From XKCD, the greatest web-comic.

From XKCD, the greatest web-comic.

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