When free speech comes at a cost

Emily Youcis, who sold pistachios at the Phillies games, has been fired. Has her First Amendment rights to freedom of speech been violated? No, says the ACLU.

Think before you speak . . . or tweet, or update, livestream or comment, whether you're a white nationalist or a PR exec making a joke at a country's expense.

Freedom-of-speech protection under the First Amendment, experts point out over and over, does not extend to the private sector, and that's a tough lesson to learn following a divisive presidential campaign of unusually coarse discourse.

"Employers have always been sensitive to these issues," said Michael Gerhardt, scholar in residence at the National Constitution Center. "They're going to be really sensitive these days. Their brands are at stake."

On Monday, Emily "The Pistachio Girl" Youcis, a well-known food vendor at Citizens Bank Park, was fired by Aramark for her involvement in "white identity politics."

Youcis, 26, didn't return requests for comment yesterday but her Twitter feed was full of people questioning whether her freedom-of-speech rights have been violated.

They haven't been, said Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of ACLU of Pennsylvania.

"Private employers don't have to respect your views," Roper said. "You don't get to turn somebody else's company into a platform for something they disagree with."

First Amendment confusion could be more problematic thanks to the election of Donald Trump, who both tweets and says what he wants with no apparent filters.

"Tensions are high and people have very strong opinions about the direction in which the country is headed," said Jeanette Cox, a law professor at University of Dayton. "Some employers may feel increased pressure to monitor employee speech that could alienate clients or customers.

The Internet often pounces on average Americans who uncork on social media, said Charles Glasser, who teaches media law and ethics at New York University graduate school of journalism - even if it's just a dumb, one-time shot from the hip.

Last week an Alabama man named Coleman Bonner posted a Facebook message that referred to residents of wildfire-ravaged Gatlinburg, Tenn., as "mouth-breathing, toothless, Trump-suckin' pond scum." His employer, Express Oil Change, fired him after swamped by complaints.

The story of Justine Sacco, a PR executive who tweeted out her fear of getting AIDS in Africa before her flight from New York to South Africa, is a cautionary tale. Sacco's 2015 tweet was shared thousands of times, and whole stories written about her before she even landed. She was subsequently fired.

"It's totally unforgiving," Glasser said "It's not just the left or right, it's social media."

He believes the growing trend of "social justice warriors" bullying these people and pressuring employers to fire them is a concern.

That, he said, includes Pistachio Girl.

"I look at this and say 'What's the connection between this woman's views and what she sells?' She's selling peanuts for God's sake," Glasser said.

Last month, in an interview with Daily News columnist Will Bunch, Youcis said she was part of the alt-right movement and done with "white guilt."

"White Americans have been vilified in the media," she said. "We want to stand up for white America - we're the backbone of this country, the white working-class people."

Glasser worries that today's climate will make people more afraid to express themselves in any forum.

"The current crop of progressives would say that's a good thing, that these ideas should not be expressed," Glasser said. "Forcing bad ideas into an underground will never expose them to the sunshine of truth."

Daryle Lamont Jenkins, of One People's Project, a an organization that monitors "right-wing groups" said he'd like the hateful, racist voices to go silent.

"The motto of our organization is 'hate has consequences,'" Jenkins said. "We want these people to go away."

narkj@phillynews.com

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@jasonnark