Often, people will stop me on the street and ask, “Hey, Hispanic Fanatic, what is the role of government regulation when it comes to preventing racial discrimination versus abridging an individual’s First Amendment rights?”
I can’t tell you how many times this has come up.
Fortunately, we now have a precedent to clarify matters. To recap, a restaurant in Philadelphia recently posted a sign inside that read, “This is America: When ordering, please speak English.”
Well, at least they said please.
The city’s Commission on Human Relations ruled that the restaurant’s sign did not intimidate or discriminate against people who didn’t speak English.
What should we make of this? The sign is clearly a response to the restaurant owner’s irritation with the recent influx of Hispanic and Asian immigrants into his neighborhood. There is no doubt that he is being, to put it mildly, a jerk for demanding that people conform to his comfort level.
At first glance, this seems as straightforward as the infamous Wetback Wednesday incident that I blogged about recently.
There are some differences, however. The restaurant’s sign is not an overt insult like the one at the bar in Pittsburgh (by the way, what is it with Pennsylvania?). Also, this case has the government getting involved, while the Pittsburgh dust-up had no such factor.
So as much as I think the restaurant is vile for attempting to bully its customers, I have to admit that they have a right to do so. As long as they are not refusing service or actively threatening people (and there is no evidence that the management ever did), they can proclaim whatever preference or agenda on their own property that they like. Having bureaucrats tell people what they can and can’t post in their own business is beyond chilling, and I would even support those jerks in Pittsburgh if the government intervened.
So the First Amendment wins again. Although it would be nice if people, especially business owners in a position of power, realized that having the legal right to state something doesn’t give you a pass on decency or common sense. In essence, it doesn’t mean that it’s ok to be a dick. And that’s true in any language.