The Mississippi Justice Institute, the legal arm of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, sent a letter today to the Mississippi Department of Public Safety concerning the Department’s proposed boycott of Nike.
MJI outlined that a government boycott based upon a personal objection to speech made by a company is unconstitutional. This is the case whether it is the government boycott of Chick-Fil-A in Denver or Nike in Mississippi.
“A government boycott of a company for an exercise of free speech would be a flagrant violation of the First Amendment,” Aaron Rice, Director of the Mississippi Justice Institute, said. “For example, in Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs, Wabaunsee Cty., Kan. v. Umbehr, 518 U.S. 668 (1996), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects independent contractors from the termination of at-will government contracts in retaliation for their exercise of the freedom of speech. In a similar case, the Court in Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois, 497 U.S. 62 (1990) held that politically based refusals to hire are just as unconstitutional as politically based dismissals of employees. What is clear from these cases is that the government cannot use taxpayer money to punish speech, either by canceling existing financial arrangements or by refusing to enter into future business relationships.”
In the past, MCPP has clearly communicated its view that using the national anthem as a venue for protest at sporting events is not appropriate and the NFL has clearly suffered from the consumer backlash. However, there is a difference between consumers exercising rights based on personally-held views and the government attempting to do it on behalf of all citizens.
“As a proud American, and as a fellow military veteran who lost a leg in Iraq, I would not personally choose the national anthem as a venue for protest as Colin Kaepernick has, or to highlight this act as Nike has,” Rice added. “However, I fought to protect their right to do just that without fear of government retribution, and I am always heartened to see citizens actually exercising that right – even when I may disagree with their viewpoint.
“MCPP and MJI are private organizations with the objective, among other things, of holding government accountable to its proper role as defined by the Constitution. To look the other way simply because we may disagree with the speech in question would be to fail in fulfilling this objective.”