Freedom of Speech: How far does it go?

A City Council vote last week could bring some unique changes to the streets of Austin.

The topic of freedom of speech has been prevalent after the events in Charlottesville. Many are asking how the right applies in common situations and when it doesn't apply. 

Freedom of speech is covered in the First Amendment which reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

How does that apply to expression - specifically on social media? Can a company fire you for something you post online?

The answer is complicated. If you work for a private company, it's the company's right to discipline their employees' speech, according to University of Texas historian Dr. Jeremi Suri.

If you're a government employee, institutions like police departments, public schools and local government branches can't restrict employees' free speech rights, but they do need to assure that such speech doesn't keep the employee from doing their job, Suri said.

"I think we're actually coming back to a very traditional debate and I think in this sense it's healthy," Suri said. "We all should have opinions we have the right to voice our opinions but from the beginning the presumption has always been that opinions will be voiced in a way that is civil and inclusive to other people."

So, you do have the right to express yourself, but that doesn't mean there won't be consequences.

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