Inquirer Editorial: Firing 'Pistachio Girl' for comments understandable, but hard to swallow

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.

It’s been such a quiet off season for the Phillies that the hiring of John Kruk as an announcer and the firing of a ballpark concessions vendor have been the two biggest news stories from their South Broad Street home.

For those keeping score, the Phillies are batting .500. Hiring former Phillie Kruk was a homerun. But although it was understandable, the firing of Emily Youcis, the vendor better known as “Pistachio Girl,” for her involvement in “white identity politics” was a free-speech error.

Technically, Youcis, 26, was fired by Aramark, which has the concessions contract at Citizens Bank Park. Fans at Phillies games may remember her for her singsong hawking of peanuts and Cracker Jack. At the ballpark, she was harmless and entertaining. But away from the game, Youcis is a Donald Trump fan who supports white nationalism.

She made news in July when she interviewed liberal protesters outside the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia for a video that ran on the Breitbart News website titled “Trump Girl Trolls #DemExit Protesters.”

Last month, Youcis attended a convention in Washington sponsored by the National Policy Institute, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has called a white supremacist organization. Outside the convention, she got into a confrontation with protesters who accused the NPI of supporting anti-Semitism, white supremacy, and fascism. A video clip shows Youcis asking one of the demonstrators: “Do you hate white people?”

David Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, sent a tweet in support of Youcis’ actions at the convention, which she retweeted.

All the bad publicity prompted Aramark to fire Youcis. In an interview with an internet site that promotes white identity politics, Youcis said Aramark told her that her social media activities supporting white nationalist ideas did not reflect the company’s values.

Aramark issued a statement that said Youcis is “no longer employed after publicly connecting our company to views that contradict our values.” It said “a core value” of the company is “treating everyone with integrity and respect always.”

Critics of Youcis’ firing argue that her freedom-of-speech rights guaranteed under the First Amendment have been violated. But such protection does not extend to the private sector. Youcis is not the first person expressing controversial views to be dumped by a company seeking to protect its brand.

That’s certainly within Aramark’s rights. But it’s discomforting when workers get punished for speaking their mind on their free time. As author Salman Rushdie, who received death threats for one of his books, said: “One of the problems with defending free speech is you often have to defend people that you find to be outrageous and unpleasant and disgusting.”

Donald Trump said in a recent tweet that no one should be allowed to burn the American flag, and suggested that those that do should be stripped of their citizenship or be sent to prison for a year. The better response by Trump and his supporters would be to dial down their own hate language while fiercely protecting the First Amendment.

Inquirer Editorial Board