LETTER: Free speech rights should extend to work

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“Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired,” President Trump said about NFL players who kneel during the national anthem in protest of racial and social injustice.

“Stand for the national anthem,” Rep. Luke Messer demanded the next day, agreeing on Twitter with the president.

“NFL owners and the league should have created a standard of conduct on this issue, so that players go into the league agreeing with the patriotism of the sport and the fans,” Rep. Todd Rokita commanded in a subsequent email.

As the CEO of SupplyKick, a fast-growing company here in Indiana, I couldn’t be more disheartened by the responses of these two candidates hoping to be our next U.S. senator. It’s not clear to me why these two individuals are so weak on First Amendment rights for Americans in the workplace.

It concerns me that both representatives look at the employees in the NFL with disdain. They generalize and minimize the viewpoints of the workers. They seem to believe that free speech is something you should give up in an employment contract (the Treasury secretary said exactly that in a weekend interview).

Employees should not be asked to hold their tongues, or otherwise be someone they are not when at work for fear of losing their job. Politics is part of who each of us are. It is a manifestation of our values and our social conscious. The two congressmen suggest that your work-self and your personal-self must be divided.

I fully reject their elitist assessment of our workers’ freedoms. This is a world where work and personal life blend together. Most people I know take as much work home with them as they do at the workplace. Employees respond to emails when in the office and out. To say we lose our First Amendment rights at the workplace is to say we lose our First Amendment rights in all places. Should an employee be respectful of others? Yes. Should an employee be silenced for their beliefs? Wholeheartedly no.

I understand that these politicians are using this moment for political gain, to continue dividing us into groups of us-versus-them. But the comments by these two congressional leaders were ill conceived. Every working American deserves more protections at work, not less.
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Josh Owens
 

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