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Is it legal to fire a person for participating in hate speech?

Recent events in the news have placed a renewed focus on the rights (or lack of rights) of individuals who choose to align themselves with certain political affiliations, such as white supremacy groups. These circumstances shed an important light on a very complicated area of law — the rights of a person to hold an opinion that others find offensive or even dangerous. The law makes it very clear in the first amendment that individuals of all beliefs have the right to free speech, but speaking freely often carries serious consequences.

There has been a lot of news recently about individuals who choose to identify with white nationalist groups getting fired from their jobs. This creates an interesting and important legal issue about whether or not it is legal to fire a person for identifying with beliefs that many people see as hateful.

Private employers have a surprising amount of flexibility when it comes to hiring and firing, even when one accounts for the various restrictions of workplace discrimination. Under federal employment law, a private employer may not discriminate against an employee for his or her disability, age, sex, race, religion or for several other protected reasons. However, at the moment, it is not illegal to fire a person for political activity.

These matters are very difficult to discuss, because they necessarily deal with issues that push many cultural buttons for individuals on every side of the issue. Of course, threatening the well-being of another person or participating in hate speech is not acceptable and should be condemned in all instances. If you have further questions about the boundaries of free speech and how it may affect employment, you can consult with an experienced employment law attorney.

Source: Washington Post, "Can private employers fire employees for going to a white supremacist rally?," accessed Aug. 18, 2017

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