T-Shirts, Forums, & Freedom

T-Shirts, Forums, & Freedom: While perusing TotalFark (Registration and $5 a month required), I ran across quite a few submissions related to an incident that occurred on Monday in an Albany mall. Here are just some of the headlines from TotalFark…

– “Man arrested for wearing a dry T-shirt in a mall, have we gone insane?”
– “New Yorker arrested for wearing t-shirt that says “Peace on Earth”
– “Lawyer Arrested For Wearing a ‘Peace’ T-Shirt”
– “Man arrested for message on t-shirt. Peace message. Framers spinning in their graves.”

Here’s the scoop on what actually happened from MSNBC

“DOWNS AND HIS SON, 31-year-old Roger Downs, each had a pro-peace shirt made Monday night at a store in the mall. One shirt simply said “Let Inspections Work” on one side and “No War With Iraq” on the other. The other shirt said “Give Peace A Chance” on the front and “Peace On Earth” on the back.

A Macy’s employee saw the men in the food court and alerted security. Downs and his son were asked to remove their shirts. Roger Downs complied, but when Stephen Downs wouldn’t, he was told to leave the mall. When he refused, he was arrested for trespassing.”

First off, despite the fact that I’m about as hawkish as it gets on the war, I think it was silly to ask those men to remove their shirts or leave the mall. Not only do I disagree with the decision, but if I had a store at the mall, I’d complain to the mall management and demand that they not do anything like that again.

That being said, all of the headlines on Totalfark are totally incorrect. Those men were not kicked out of the mall for their anti-war T-shirts, they were kicked out of the mall for trespassing. Furthermore, that mall had every right to tell them to get lost for wearing those T-shirts. You know why? Because the mall is a private business and if they choose to do so they can impose a dress code and/or limit the types of free speech expressed at their place of business. I’d say the same thing if the mall banned people for wearing Right Wing News T-shirts — if they existed. That mall has a right to do that just as anyone offended by that mall’s behavior has every right to choose to spend their money somewhere else.

The same thing applies to the forums & comment sections on websites. On RWN, I delete and ban users (well, as best you can on the net) for using racial slurs, libel, making threats, excessive flaming, trolling, etc. I don’t bother to write them emails, I don’t do elaborate explanations on the forums, I don’t make any effort to explain my decision, it’s just bye-bye. Sometimes these people write to email about being banned and generally I don’t even bother to reply. On the rare occasions that I do respond, I basically tell them that if they will conform to the rules that I have chosen to set-up, I’ll remove their ban, otherwise they’re welcome to go somewhere else. It’s like it or lump it.

That being the case, am I and the mall mentioned above violating our patron’s First Amendment rights? Not in the least. While you do have a right to free speech, you do not have a right to demand that people give you a forum to express your views. Moreover since we’re talking about the First Amendment…

— It doesn’t give you the right to be free of criticism for your position.
— It doesn’t give you the right to demand that other people continue to pay you money if they’re offended by your position.
— It doesn’t exempt you from protests or boycotts.
— It doesn’t make you brave or patriotic simply because you “dissent” from some opinion.

In essence, our freedom is speech is only a ticket to the dance. It does guarantee that you can get in the door, but it doesn’t promise that you’ll like every song, that no one will snicker at your moves on the dance floor, or that any of the girls will dance if you ask. That my friend, is up to you.

***Update***: According to statements that The Smoking Gun has gotten their hands on, it looks like there was more to the story. Mall Security claimed that “as they were walking through the Common Area they were stopping customers to tell why they are wearing the shirts.”

Furthermore, these people were initially brought to the attention of mall security because they had gotten into a dispute with other customers, no doubt because they were, “stopping customers to tell why they are wearing the shirts.” Here’s what the person who contacted Macy’s (who in turn contacted mall security) said…

“The customer stated that these two gentlemen were having a verbal dispute with another group of individuals in the mall. The customer was afraid of what may come out of the dispute, so she wanted to let someone know.”

Given that this was the case, it now appears that the mall did the right thing when they told these people to either take off their shirts off or leave the mall. If anything, by not immediately asking them to leave, they may have been too tolerant of people who were causing a disturbance in their place of business.

Thanks to Ryan for pointing out The Smoking Gun article in the comments section.

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