It doesn’t come as a surprise that people still say hateful things, or have inexplicably strong reactions to what people who aren’t them might do in their own bedrooms, so at first I just rolled my eyes when San Antonio councilwoman Elisa Chan and members of her staff showed up in a recording doing just that.
But then Chan responded to the whole claptrap:
The comments from the staff meeting on May 21st were and are my personal opinions and thoughts as guaranteed to me by the 1st amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It is unfortunate that a former member of my D9 Council team betrayed the trust of my staff members and me. I will fight, I will always fight for our freedom of speech, especially in a private setting.
I just … there’s so many pieces of backwards nonsense here, I’m not quite sure where to start. Since it’s already backwards, let’s maybe start from the bottom and work our way up. Never let it be said I can’t work the theme:
1) Chan seems to be conflating freedom of speech and a right to privacy. Is the issue that she thinks the statements were made “in a private setting,” and therefore shouldn’t be subject to public scrutiny (the latter), or that she has every right to express those opinions as protected by the First Amendment (the former)?
2) Let’s start with the latter. I’m all for a right to privacy, even for public figures. Much as I know the world’s survival hinges on one more picture of some drunk celebrity’s junk hanging out, I think everyone deserves to have a door or two she can close.
But this isn’t Chan getting drunk and mouthing off at a friend’s dinner party. She’s a public official. She’s discussing public business (an ordinance and how to address it) with her staff. “At a staff meeting in a government building discussing public policy” seems remarkably Not Private to me.
Okay, so privacy isn’t really cutting it, so I guess we’ll pitch that and move on to First Amendment rights.
3) Just so we’re clear, the First Amendment doesn’t give anyone a right to “personal opinions and thoughts.” We call that magical “right” having a brain. That’s how having a brain works: you think. You form opinions. It’s kind of essential to the paradigm of sentience. It would be literally impossible to even conceive of a right if you didn’t have thoughts. If you know someone who’s managed to create a law that actually suppresses synaptic activity, let me know, because, damn, that is a writer with a lot more influence than I have ever seen.
4) What the First Amendment does grant is a freedom to express your personal thoughts and opinions without fear of prosecution. You can express whatever hateful thing you like in a public setting, and with only a few exceptions, there are no laws of which you can run afoul. Even the Founding Fathers apparently understood that haters gotta hate. Pay attention, though, because prefixes are important.
5) While granting you freedom from prosecution, the First Amendment protects everyone’s right to express ideas. By its very nature, it cannot protect you from persecution for expressing repugnant viewpoints. You get to say stupid shit, but people get to say they think it’s stupid. They get to say you’re stupid. They get to say whatever they want to, because they have the same bloody right you’re invoking here. See also: welcome to the internet.
Freedom of speech is not now, nor has it ever been, freedom from the consequences of your speech. Great oogly-moogly, do you have any idea how many people would be telling off their bosses every damn day and getting away with it if that were the case? Does the world really need more than one Charlie Sheen?