On Government Compelled Speech

The First Amendment does not allow government to compel its rank and file employees to affirm any religious belief, associate with any political party, or support any viewpoint or cause with which they disagree. Just as you have the freedom of speech, you have the freedom not to speak.

In a story in today’s San Diego Union-Tribune, four San Diego firefighters, represented by an attorney, state that they were compelled to participate, over their objections, in the San Diego Pride parade on July 21, 2007. Such a claim must be taken seriously. If the facts asserted are true, it appears that the firefighters’ First Amendment rights were probably violated. The firefighters’ attorney has sent a letter to the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, requesting the right to file a sexual harassment suit against the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. We call on the City of San Diego to respond promptly and appropriately.

In 1994, the ACLU protected the Pride Parade organizers from being compelled to express a message with which they did not agree. Roger Hedgecock sought to have a large contingent of anti-gay protesters in the parade and sued when his application was denied. We won and the parade went forward. The same principle applies here. Private persons or groups, like rank and file government employees, cannot be forced to support a message with which they disagree.

The Constitution protects everyone, of whatever viewpoint or orientation. The ACLU is the oldest advocate of LGBT rights in San Diego. The ACLU has also defended the free speech rights of countless police officers and other government employees.

The ACLU remains committed to defending freedom of speech, as a matter of principle, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the speaker.