Freedom of Speech
America is the Land of the Free.
We have fought wars to defend freedom --- indeed, the current operation
in Afghanistan is code-named ``Enduring Freedom.''
And yet, in times of stress or danger, freedom itself comes under attack,
often by people waving freedom as a banner.
And in time of war, freedom is supposed to stand on a pedestal --- and
Freedom to Dissent
From the beginning, Americans insisted on the right to dissent: that
is part of the freedoms of speech, press, association, and petition
guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.
After all, how could we defend our other freedoms and rights if we
could not even express our support of our freedoms and rights?
Unions particularly insisted on the right to dissent, it is only by
exercising our First Amendment rights can a union function.
Unions have fought for the freedom of speech and of the press, the
right to associate and form associations, the right to petition, to
demonstrate, and to vote.
So it is quite consistent for the United Faculty of Florida to continue
to defend freedom.
So how does the Freedom of Expression apply to this case?
Our tradition on dissent.
``Anyone who says that this isn't a free country,'' quipped Art Hoppe,
``ought to be clapped in jail.''
Our flag says that we are the land of the free and home of brave,
but sometimes --- especially in stressful and dangerous times ---
we have not lived up to those ideals.
Out of fear, we strip unpopular and eccentric people of their
These episodes --- mob actions (including lynchings), unlawful
prosecutions, detentions, etc. --- come back to haunt us afterwards,
and repeatedly an older generation has to explain to a younger one,
that ... that out of a lack of bravery came a lack of freedom.
Yet the fact that the explaining was necessary shows that the ideals
have managed to survive the repeated dry blasts and shattering
Many Americans are willing to step forward and say, ``I think he's
wrong (perhaps very, very wrong), but in America he is free to
This courage of Americans to defend the rights of their opponents
is what keeps America free.
America is a free country, indeed the most free in the world.
It will remain that way as long as Americans truly believe in freedom.
So unlike some other nations, the American government mostly avoids
proceeding against people for speaking their minds.
That should go for a refugee who cannot even go home, like Professor
It is not that academics have special rights that should be taken away;
it is that non-academic Americans should have rights that
they currently don't have.
The essence of the American experiment is that a society can exist when
ordinary people are free.
Ultimately, academics are ordinary people, and ordinary people are academics.
Anyone who is curious about the world and who studies it, be it railroads,
cellular dynamics, Anglo-Saxon poetry, civil war military tactics, large
corporations, analytic number theory, Russian ballet, or labor organizing,
is a scholar.
Some of us are hired by institutions with academic freedom policies, but
all of us are protected by the notion that curiousity is a good thing ---
for ourselves and for society --- and that the pursuit of where our
curiousity leads us is a right.
Can an employer fire a noisy employee?
But it is just Professor Al-Arian's job that is at stake (at
least right now).
Doesn't an employer have the right to fire people whose off-duty
activities inconvenience that employer?
A tricky problem.
First of all, the employer is the State of Florida, so we have
the slight problem of an American government proceeding against someone
for something they said.
The real question.
Second, does the employer really have the right to fire employees for
what employees say off the job site?
Current law lets many employers fire employees for wearing green cloths,
running for the school board, or submitting nude paintings to a local
Yet current law does not let employers fire employees for
the color of their skin, or their sex, or for whistleblowing.
Out of historical accident, some reasons for dismissal are legal and
others are not; it's a matter of legislation and contracts.
Follow that question.
So perhaps the question is: should an employer have the right
to fire an employee for wearing green cloths?
In fact, should an employer have the right to fire an employee for
writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper, opposing something
that the employer wants?
Remember, this is an era with huge institutional employers, big
corporations and big government agencies.
In such a David and Goliath confrontation, why should Goliath have all
As far as the law is concerned, there is no reason why Professor Al-Arian's
rights should be special.
All Americans should have the Freedom of Expression and the Freedom of
Conscience without fearing summary dismissal from the personnel office.
This legal right can be obtained: this is something that a union can
accomplish, but only if Americans are willing to form unions and
fight for their rights.
Perhaps everyone should get First Amendment protection.
This is why unions were formed: to enable all the Davids to combine and
face Goliath together.
By standing together, the unions won many things that we take for granted:
fringe benefits, the forty-hour week (a hundred years ago, when cable
car operators called to reduce their work-time to sixty hours,
they were called ``communistic''), vacations, retirement, cost of
living increases, etc.
Perhaps it is time to add off-the-job Freedom of Expression and Freedom
of Conscience to this list --- and the unions are the ones to lead the
Scholars don't really deserve more rights than other people.
They have merely obtained more rights --- by fighting for them.
And other Americans can get these rights.
The Courts are not going to just give Americans these rights: like academics,
non-academics will have to organize and fight for their rights.
And this is something that unions can do.