Free Speech

It seems to me that one of the most misunderstood rights granted by our constitution is the right to free speech. The constitution does indeed recognize that right, but people seem to think it gives them the right to say anything any time with no consequences. In my opinion that is a drastic misunderstanding of the right of free speech. The right of free speech guaranteed by our constitution is a right that the government cannot jail you or prevent you from speaking your views and opinions. The key here is who cannot prevent you from expressing yourself. The only organization that is prevented from impairing your right to free speech is the government, not other people, not public opinion and not a private business.

As CPAs we agree to restrict our speech all of the time. We keep client information confidential. We cannot share inside information on company performance or possible merger and acquisition activity. While we do have an obligation to report wrong doing and fraud there are specific paths we are supposed to take in doing so including first going through internal procedures including reporting up through the chain of command or using a company provided hot line. In the case of corporate fraud we can also avail ourselves of the SEC whistleblower reporting process if the internal processes don’t result in adequate action.

Under employment at will, a business can fire you for expressing your personal beliefs if they conflict with corporate codes of conduct. Whether you believe that is right or wrong is a matter for you to decide, but the right to not be fired from your job based on “free speech” is not a right guaranteed by the constitution. I hope we can all at least agree on that.

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