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Penn State's 1st Amendment Victims: We Need Freedom of Speech on the Job Too, Not Just at Home!

 

The real story of the Penn State child abuse scandal and coverup is not Joe Paterno or Penn State, or even the abuse of children, as vile as what happened to them is. What it’s about it the lack of basic freedom for workers in the United State of America to speak out.

On paper, we have one of the freest societies in the world. The First Amendment to the Constitution would appear to be pretty damned unequivocal, when it states:

“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.”

And yet, there are all kinds of laws that abridge freedom of speech and the right peaceably to assemble, as well as the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

We’ve all been witness lately to how municipal authorities, no doubt under pressure from the bankers and from the central government’s police and political authorities, have been “abridging,” with the aid of police wielding clubs, pepper spray and tear gas canisters, the supposed freedom of occupy movement activists to peaceably assemble.

What Penn State has done is expose an even bigger problem: the lack of freedom for workers to speak up or to petition for redress of grievances.
Free Speech stops at the workplace door in America, and we all pay the priceFree Speech stops at the workplace door in America, and we all pay the price

This boy-sex scandal has exposed the bitter truth that we Americans have no freedom of speech once we punch in to a job or walk into a place of work. And even when that place of work is a public university, where the management is really a part of the government of the state, we workers have no freedom to petition for redress. For speaking out, or for orally or in writing seeking redress for a grievance, an employee, whether it is a teaching assistant, a professor or a janitor, risks losing her or his job. Unless a worker is backed up by a union contract, she or he has no recourse to being fired for exercising free speech "rights," and even with a union, it's a tough fight defending against being fired for speaking out. (Employment rules at universities actually use the term "insubordination" to refer to talking back to managers, even in places like universities which are supposed to be places that encourage free inquiry and intellectual debate.)

Because of this lack of First Amendment freedom on the job, corruption, violation of laws and regulations, theft, discrimination, sexual abuse, favoritism and other problems run rampant in government, in universities, and in corporations.

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