Constitutionally-protected what?

Paul Mirecki has some odd ideas about freedom of speech. In this article about his “forced resignation” from his post as Chairman of Religious Studies, his statement to the press is quoted:

“The University penalized me and denied me my Constitutionally protected right to speak and express my mind.”

Hmmm… Really? It seems to me that he’s expressing his mind right now, in front of a national audience. What the University denied him was the opportunity to be paid out of taxpayer money for teaching things that the University didn’t want him to.

Let’s face it: journalists, teachers, TV and Film producers and everybody else who gets paid to provide a message to an audience do so because of PRIVILEGE, not because of RIGHT. If their employers decide they don’t like the message, their employers can AND SHOULD discipline them, or even fire them. These people can still speak their minds, but they don’t have a constitutionally-protected right to get PAID for that.

And whether or not Intelligent Design is a thinly-veiled crock of fundamentalist intellectual dishonesty, it looks pretty bad for the Chair of Religious Studies at your university to be denigrating religious people. Of COURSE you remove him. Send him off to “Social Sciences” and let him flame the “fundies” from there. But if donations to the school drop off, you might have to let him go altogether.

He’ll land on his feet. There are plenty of educational institutions that will cater to his style of teaching.

–Howard

(note: It’s possible that there is legislation with court precedent in Kansas or at the Federal level that protects teachers and their precious tenure from the fallout of their big mouths. But that’s not “constitutionally-protected” free speech.)

45 thoughts on “Constitutionally-protected what?”

  1. THANK you. That puts the right to free speech in perfect context — you can say what you want to say, but there’s no guarantee you get to keep your job. I’m looking at you, Howard Stern.

  2. Amen…

    I’m always astounded by people who claim they are being repressed, that there are being held back and prevented from delivering whatever inane bit of drivel they consider their all-important message, all while surrounded by TV cameras, and on stations through out the country due to network affiliations…

    There’s a book titled “100 people that are ruining America”, and I think you’d enjoy it…

    I am just astonished daily that people still think that they have the right to say what ever they like, and get paid for it…

    The guy has the right to speak as he wishes, and if he wants to denigrate me personally in language that would make ME blush, that’s fine. His right…

    But if he thinks I have to support that he have a paying job, he’s wacko-crazy insane.

    Free speech isn’t, despite what people have been tricked into thinking, absolute. Never actually was, either.

    People that forget that just mad me sad.

    And, to my knowledge, there is no such law in KS… Tenured or not, violating set policy will usually get you canned.

    And it’s KU… I’m so not shocked that someone would verbally attack us fundies…

    1. Re: Amen…

      “There’s a book titled “100 people that are ruining America”, and I think you’d enjoy it…”

      I was considering buying that book until I saw the author give a book talk on C-SPAN2. In it he revealed that his premise for people being on his list of 100 people is this: they are people in a position of power who are not fundamentalist Christian conservatives.

      Nothing else.

      He went on to say, if memory serves, that homosexuals should be imprisoned and that liberalism equals treason- reall Ann Coulter stuff.

      I, for one, won’t be buying any book by him…

      1. Re: Amen…

        Well, were that the case, the list wouldn’t be a mere 100 people…

        It’s a good book. In it, I don’t get the impression that he thinks homosexuals should be locked up, or that liberals are traitors. He worked with people like Dan Rather for years, and still considers them friends and good people.

        There are a great many points over which, as the writer says, reasonable people may disagree. He targets, for the most part, people who have taken what they have (be it high positions at universites, or a spoke as a nightly news anchor) and have for the most part abused it. People who have said one thing, and done another…

        It’s a pretty good read… Borrow it from the library if you don’t want him to get money… 🙂

        For my part, I bought mine at a used book store in Manhatten Kansas…

        1. Re: Amen…

          When I read the book, it seemed to me that the auther, Bernard Goldberg appears to be in denial that America has ever done anything wrong. From his comments, you’d never supsect that America would support people like the Taliban (whom we trained and funded during the Cold War) and Saddam Hussein (Donald Rumsfeld once visited the man, shook his hand, and told him it was OK to use weapons of mass destruction on the Iranians). Furthermore, Mr. Goldberg trots out the old saw that right-wing pundits are much less crazy than left-wing pundits. Right.

          I like to listen to NPR’s Fresh Air. I used to think it was impossible to sound like a nutjob on that show. They could bring in anyone, and the show’s format and general style would make the guest sound reasonable and polite and the guest’s views sound grounded and inciteful. Then one day I heard Bill O’Reilly on Fresh Air, and I knew I was wrong. The man couldn’t tell a negative review of a liberal book from a positive one, and as Terry Gross tried to point this out to O’Reilly, he accused of trying to do a hatchet job on him. I can’t say if he’s any worse than far-left nutjobs, having never heard a Michael Moore interview on Fresh Air, but if Al Franken made the 100, Bill should too, and I know he’s not in there.

          1. Re: Amen…

            His point isn’t that the US has never made mistakes, but rather that it’s not such a horrid place as many people would lead you to believe… We’re not the evil folks of the world, and a lot of the people on the list are people who almost seem to take joy in railing on how horrid this country is…

            Yes, we aided the Taliban, becuase at the time they were fighting the russians who were invading their country, and that was fine with us. We supported Saddam because Iraq was the enemy of Iran, and Iran was taking Americans as hostages and Saddam was leaving us alone. History is FILLED with “lesser of two evils”, but because of instant news, people notice.

            His point is, in several instances, that horrid things done to US, no one cares. Where was the indignation and loathing in the media when those four contractors were burned alive, mutilated, and strung up from the bridge? Where was the moral outrage and anger when the american was beheaded and the tape was broadcast across the globe? But you remember the indigation and outright HATE that was the torture scandal… We ADMITTED to that, the people involved were punished, and no one even DIED, and it recieved far more attention and anger and “This is what this country is about” from the TV News than anything else…

            O’Riley may not be the best pundit for conservative values, but at least he’s on the side of “we ain’t so bad”… He’s no Rush Limbaugh, and he’s sure no Ronald Reagan, but he’s worlds better than people we see ONLY the faults of this country…

            And by golly, I have to agree…

            *Note: SOrry Howard… I seem to have ninja’d yer thread… :)*

          2. Re: Amen…

            Where was the moral outrage and anger when the american was beheaded and the tape was broadcast across the globe?

            Where wasn’t it? The news didn’t try to silence it. The pundits took it and declared, “these are the sort of people we’re up against”. There was genuine righteous wrath. But what good did it do? You can say all you want about the evildoers, but they’re not listening. Impotent rage isn’t healthy.

            But you remember the indigation and outright HATE that was the torture scandal… We ADMITTED to that, the people involved were punished, and no one even DIED, and it recieved far more attention and anger and “This is what this country is about” from the TV News than anything else…

            The admission was half-hearted, and I would argue that some of the people involved have yet to be punished. I would further argue that some outrage was merited, because our country is in an ideal position to be preventing other governments from doing this sort of thing, and we can’t do that if we’re using foreign governments to torture our prisoners.

            His point is, in several instances, that horrid things done to US, no one cares.

            After September 11, France declared, “We are all Americans!” Seems solid to me. Besides, you can’t fault them too much for not liking us, ever since we decided to be friendly to the British. ^-^

            History is FILLED with “lesser of two evils”, but because of instant news, people notice.
            I assume you meant “people don’t notice”.
            True enough, we have sided with the lesser of two evils a lot, and it’s often necessary during war. Why wouldn’t we have sided with the Russians when they were fighting the Nazis? However, our follow-up is bad. Churchill was all for kicking the Commies out of Russia after we mopped up the Nazis, but we decided not to, and look what happened. We supported some fundamentalists in their fight against the Russians, but we didn’t keep tabs on them after they won, and look what happened. We kicked a socialist government out of Iran, but we didn’t look after the government we left there, not even when the Islamofascists decided they were up for a revolution, and look what happened.
            We’re hardly horrible people, but we have a bad habit of intervening and subsequently failing to leave things better than we found them.

  3. I don’t understand people like this (on any side of any debate). If you disagree with someone, don’t resort to childish attacks for name calling. Make a coherent argument and try to sway people with rhetoric and skill. You’ll never sway an intelligent person with phony arguments.

    1. Most of the time, they’re not trying to sway intelligent people. They’re either a) trying to polarize their own side to strengthen support they already have, or b) just whining for the fun of it.

  4. Oh, also…

    Guy has just been blasted for mocking ‘them thar fundies’ in a state should probably be an honorary member of the bible belt…

    Had I done such a thing (and hey, sometimes the uber-fundies NEED to be mocked, but that’s a different issue), I sure as heck wouldn’t go out at night on dark country roads…

    Them good ol’ boys don’t have much of a sense of humor…

    And all KU (University of Kansas, the Jayhawks, mortal enemy to my beloved KSU Wildcats) has to do is say “We spoke to him, and he did not, to us, show remorse about his comments. We felt his behavior was not what we expect from the Chairman of Religious Studies, and required he step down from that position. He is still employed at this University as a professor, but he is no longer the chairman of religious studies” and the whole thing is done, and he looks like an even bigger cry baby…

    1. Re: Oh, also…

      Them good ol’ boys don’t have much of a sense of humor…

      IIRC he got the tar beat out of him by two good ol’ boys who tailgated his car with their truck recently….
      *no comment*

      1. Re: Oh, also…

        my point exactly…

        You don’t put on a shirt that says “I hate black people” and wander harlem, and you don’t mock people’s religion, and then go wander around the freaking farms…

        It’s like ASKING for the butt-kicking…

        But hey, they were only expressing their hurt and anger over what he said, and since “his side” (I say that assuming he’s a liberal, which is merely playing the odds here since he’s a college professor) has LONG since claimed that self expression is a form of speech, they should not be charged, since he worries so about the right to free speech…

        1. Re: Oh, also…

          Actually I’ve been reading a fair bit of concern over whether or not that incident was staged as opposed to ‘real.’

          For instance: Two yahoos drive like maniacs and then stop behind you when you stop the car. One of them is carrying a weapon. (What it is doesn’t matter much.)

          Do you…

          a) Peal out of there and make for civilization?

          or

          b) Get out of your car like an idiot?

          Now, maybe in Kansas, free expression always involves getting out of your car so you can verbally abuse people, but where I come from we choose option (a) while hopefully dialing 911 on our cellphones.

          1. Re: Oh, also…

            That thought had occurred to me as well… I thought I was the only one cynical enough to think he paid for the beating to get more inches above the fold…

        2. Re: Oh, also…

          Got to ID the beggars first….
          You are right of course, they were only expressing their feelings in the way most natural to them……

  5. I thought the idea for the course was an interesting and good one, especially if they covered more than just intellegent design and probed many of the creation stories. That’s what a good religious studies program does. Compares and contrasts. They should try to avoid being too judgemental. I mean, we’re people. We’ll judge things no matter what. And human sacrifice is wrong no matter what religion embraces it, so yah… a little judgment isn’t going to ruin the world.

    But it sounds like he wanted to do the course out of spite, not out of a rising awareness of that bit of creationism and a take on a ‘new’ belief system springing from an older one.

    After seeing what was written in the e-mails, I’m not suprised the course was cancelled, nor am I suprised he had to step aside as the chair of the dpeartment. I don’t think he should be fired from his job for that, because everybody screws up, but definately kicked out of the chairship. He obviouisly doesn’t have the ability to seperate personal feelings about some religions with objective professionalism. Not a guy you want steering the ship.

  6. While I would agree with you, Howard, there’s a slight problem. It’s the University of Kansas.

    It sounds like UoK a state-owned and run college (and I only glanced at it). That means most of it’s funding is from taxpayers, and legally (IANAL) it has to respect the consitution as it is a department of the Kansas state government. If the college *IS* part of the government, the professor may actually have that right to claim his rights to free speech were denied.*

    If it is truly a private insitution, then everything you mentioned is valid.

    (* You may be asking, are there such colleges? Yes. University of Maryland is one. I know this because I used to work there as a student lab monitor, and my paycheck was signed by the State Comptroller. )

    1. first, a note, it’s KU, not UoK…

      It is a State university (in fact, KSU and KU are both public universities, and graduating from a Kansas high school grants automatic admission to them), but unless he was completely fired, his “rights” were not violated…

      He still has his platform from which he can bash those darn fundies…

    2. Nope. Freedom of speech is the right to speak your mind. It is *not* the right to speak your mind at a place or from a postion belonging to someone else (be they government or not).

      If they fired him for saying things *as a private citizen*, he’d have a case.

      If they fired him for saying things “off duty” but while still making a lot out of his position, it gets fuzzier.

      But he was doing this *at work*.

      That makes it a “freedom of the press” issue. The university owns the facilities and he’s working for them. That makes it *their* decision as to what it is acceptable to promote using a job with them and using their facilities.

      Compare with a reporter or even an editor being fired from a paper for refusing to follow the policies set down by the publisher.

    3. Yet another reason that state owned schools aren’t exactly the best idea ever thought up. The other primary one is that they have a somewhat unfair advantage in pricing their products which circumvents competition. It’s quite anti-capitalist and leads to schools that can’t actually teach to save their lives because they have little incentive to make their product better.

  7. Bad Judgment

    Just read the article. The class he was proposing sounded like it could have been a good one, but as professor of it, he should have publicly presented an open (or, at least, non-judgmental) mind, regardless of his private views.

    The comments that were reported to surface indicate that he *was not* suited for his position, either academically or politically. I mean, a man who publicly denigrates religious belief is not the best choice for head of religious studies — such denigration indicates an intellectual dishonesty that counteracts his claims of “free speech” and “academic freedom.” It is not what he was purporting to teach that was in question by the university; what was in question was his public lack of respect for both his subject matter and his students. One shouldn’t be teaching a class if one thinks the students in it are idiots for taking it.

    Yes, I know you said this in the last couple of paragraphs. What made me wince was the sentence, “What the University denied him was the opportunity to be paid out of taxpayer money for teaching things that the University didn’t want him to.” Yes, I agree he and the university would both be better served if he were in another department. But he wasn’t teaching something to which the university objected; he just exhibited extraordinarily bad judgment in both the forum and tone in which he chose to air private opinions. And it is *that* for which he should be chastised.

  8. Moreover, he was not denied speech in ANY form. Read the article more closely:

    he was forced out as chairman of the university’s religious studies department.
    Paul Mirecki, who remains a professor at the University of Kansas,

    He was booted as department chair, but he’s still a professor.

    As I mention elsewhere, I feel Mirecki had remarkably poor judgement when he made derogatory comments. The Dean then overstepped his boundaries by forcing him to resign the department chair position (such things are typically decided by the department, not by the administration). Mirecki then continues to compound the stupidity by claiming it’ll ruin his career, which it won’t.

    As for tenure, most contracts state that tenure can only be revoked due to failure of duties and after a series of documented offenses. Tenure is a marriage between a professor and an educational institution. It is not to be granted lightly, nor to be taken away lightly.

    1. Tenure=Marriage.

      And just like Marriage, is occuring less and less and the relationship has to last longer before it occurs. Some schools just plain don’t *do* tenture any more.

  9. As I’ve been pointing out to idiots online for almost 25 years, if you are speaking on someone else’s property or via facilities (BBS, mailing list, or in this case, job) provided by someone else, it’s not freedom of speech. It’s freedom of the press.

    And as such the *owner* of said press is the one who gets to say what’s acceptable.

    Freedom of speech says that you get to speak your mind on your property, and on public property (subject to noise ordinances, libel/slander laws, etc).

    It does *not* give you the right to speak your mind on my property or using facilities belonging to me. I can allow you to. Or I can tell you that I do not tolerate that topic. And that’s my exercising *my* rights as owner(publisher/editor) of the “forum”.

    If a paper can refuse to print your letter to the editor (much less an unsolicited article you send to them) you shouldn’t be surprised if your boss can tell you “you can’t say that on company time or on company property”.

    Enough people believe that this sort of thing violates their rights that I think it should be covered in school. As should the fact that it doesn’t matter if 100% of the voters vote in favor of a referendum, it doesn’t matter if it clashes with the state or federal constitution.

    1. You’d be shocked (or maybe not) at the number of people who think even freedom of speech is an absolute…

      Try yelling “Fire” in a theater, or claiming you have a bomb on an airplane, and then tell me how absolute it is, kids…

      *sigh*

      People worry me…

          1. The guy knowingly had gone off his meds…

            Lemme check…

            Hmmm… Nope… No sympathy here for the family…

            Though I’m sure that they will sue and get money for the supid thing HE did…

          2. You should feel a little sympathy for the guy. You should also feel a little disappointment towards the family that let him get off his meds and roam free. I feel for those who haven’t the gift of sound minds and those who have to care for them, but you’re right in thinking that they shouldn’t be let off the hook.

  10. I respectfully disagree. Well, sort of. Suppose someone had made racist comments in a public forum, and then proceeded to teach a course on racism. Should they be removed from the teaching position? I’d argue that yes, they should.

    Now, suppose the racist comments were made in private, and that the teaching of the course was impartial and fair?

    The article does not specify who the emails were sent to, whether they were a public expression of opinion, or a private communique.

    The article is also vague on the connection between the emails and the cancellation of the class. The only relationship CNN indicates is a temporal one, i.e., no relationship at all.

    Basically, while I don’t think making those comments was a smart move, and while I don’t believe the course would have been an impartial view (whether it was using the theological or the scientific basis to argue from), I believe that in principle, the university’s actions were wrong. But then, I am of the naive opinion that one’s personal political views should not have a bearing on one’s employment.

    And really, once the whole problem of financial donors to the university enters the equation, I’m surprised *any* controversial courses get taught in the US.

    1. Was he attacking them for their beliefs, or for their actions? (If a certain protest group is organized by Ailixist leaders, and is primarily manned by out by Ailixist followers, is a person prejudiced if he/she complains about Ailixists?)

    2. Okay, so you disagree with him being removed from his position. Fine.

      Me, I think that’s still the University’s call. Their judgement may be in question here, but their right to exercise it should not be. The constitution does NOT protect this guy in the way he seems to think it does.

      –Howard

      1. It’s always useful to keep in mind the wording of the first amendment: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech… .” (Wording from wikipedia, other clauses removed.)

        1. Yup…

          But the States, or businesses, aren’t mentioned, therefore they are allowed…

          You just killed the guy’s whine completely…. thank you… 🙂

          1. Re: Yup…

            Well, the 14th amendment (“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; …”, again, from wikipedia) has been interpreted to put States in that clause. But trying to argue that the university is bound by the restrictions of the state is extremely thin; arguing that the removal was a law is thinner.

            Still, it seems too many people talk about what’s in the constitution without actually knowing what it says.

      2. From my understanding, you’re right. But my understanding is vague at best, so that’s hardly an indication of anything 🙂

        If you could explain the whole mess some more, I’d be grateful. For example, is the university considered a public service, and thus subject to the same non-discrimination rules as, say, the police department? And could a policeman be demoted rather than dismissed for making similar comments?

        1. The rights of the Consitution were extended through litigation to include actions by the States. In other words, a State has to maintain the Rights outlined in the Constitution.

          However, private organizations, do not.

          1. And therein lies the rub. Right now, they don’t, so our boy has no legal recourse. My question is: should private organizations be required to maintain your Constitutional rights?

            I could care less about Paul Mirecki, but I’d like to know people’s opinions on this.

          2. Short answer: No.

            Long answer: (pardon me Howard) Hell No.

            Imagine if private organizations had to maintain the same standard. A Church couldn’t deny people Communion, for instance, or remove people from membership due to moral or theological grounds. A private corporation has a vested interest in keeping some things secret, trade secrets for instance, since the only things higher legally than a contract in US law is the Constitution and a Treaty, where does that leave corporations? Or what about that private college that wants to teach from some sort of worldview, would they be able to hire people who fit into the style of the school, or be forced to hire just anyone.

            Talk about a can of worms.

            There is a seperation of Private and Public for a reason, and I’m not talking about the so called “right to privacy.” The Constitution concerns Government, not businesses or daily life.

          3. Can of worms indeed.

            But the separation of public and private may not be as clear as it should be. The regular solution to the dilemma I had in mind is trust-busting laws that prevent corporations from establishing monopolies and denying people competition. Still, I think there are situations where a corporation can get and maintain a monopoly on a service, and monopolies shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate.

            However, for most of the situations you named above, your response of “hell no” seems to be the correct response. Separation of church and state works both ways, or it doesn’t work at all.

  11. I always liked the scenario presented in Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walked Through Walls – the exchange between Lazerus Long and Sky Marshall Beau at the Circle meeting. Sky Marshall Beau takes a verbal shot at Long, along the lines of “I though you were the champion of free speech.” Long’s reply went something like, “I am – but TANSTAAFL. [There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch – a central tenet for much of Heinlein’s work.] If you want to exercise your free speech, go rent a hall. The Circle has paid for this one, and we have business to get to.” (Yes, I know I’m paraphrasing. For one thing, Lazerus is a cranky old coot. But the basic gist comes through.)

    Basic idea is that free speech is a central right – but whoever’s footing the bill can choose the message. If you want the ability to define the message, pay for the venue. (A.J. Leibling had a point: “Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.”)

  12. The man is hardly in a position to complain, but predicaments like his do raise an interesting question: how do we handle discrimination by large private enterprises? If it’s a small enterprise, people can easily seek out alternatives and let the free market do its work, but if a private company is large enough to push out alternatives (i.e., the only store in 100 miles is a Wal-Mart), what do people do?

    The reason governments have to have internal rules about discrimination is because governments don’t have competition. If a private enterprise doesn’t have competition, should we restrict its ability to segregate its customer base?

    Not that it applies to the shmuck in question, who is in no position to complain, but situations like this get me thinking.

Comments are closed.