Free Speech, the Constitution, and the US Military

With a few recent controversies over US troops making (or being prohibited from making) religious statements, a common thread has found its way into a few responses that demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the US Constitution.

These comments were along the lines of “if he worked for a private company [the soldier] would be fired” for making a religious statement, or this one from an MRFF supporter:

This is so ironic: A civilian employer can monitor and repress “free speech” in the workplace, yet the military…is supposed to let these Talicrisps (fundamentalist christians with fried brains) just rant freely…

For those who haven’t read the Constitution lately, the US Constitution prevents the government from restricting the rights of its citizens. The Constitution does not restrict a private citizen from restricting the rights of another citizen.

While there are many nuances, a private company can generally punish or fire an employee for certain speech or conduct even when that speech or conduct is “protected” under the Constitution.

By contrast, the US government generally cannot punish or fire an employee for certain speech or conduct when that speech or conduct is protected under the Constitution.  Again, there are some nuances, and the US military is often held up as the largest “exception,” since the mission of national defense may necessitate restricting troops’ liberties.

But it should not be so surprising that the US government has a “higher hurdle” than the private sector when it comes to restricting the constitutionally protected liberties of military members.  That “hurdle” is the US Constitution.

At least, it shouldn’t be surprising if you remember your high school American government class.

Right, Rick?