Politics, Amtrak and free speech

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Politics, Amtrak and free speech

Postby Greg Moore » Mon Oct 30, 2017 7:59 am

This one is interesting. passenger told to remove "Love Trumps Hate" button on Amtrak because it's political and Amtrak is politically funded.

To cut to the chase, if you scroll far enough, Amtrak did get back to the customer and told them they're fine and the employee misunderstood the policy.

I'm curious what policy was misunderstood. My guess is something like actual campaign events, etc. But still a bit troubling an employee would think a button was an issue.
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Re: Politics, Amtrak and free speech

Postby SouthernRailway » Mon Oct 30, 2017 9:42 am

That is absurd.

I'll be sure to wear my Libertarian 2016 shirt on my next Amtrak trip and see the response.
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Re: Politics, Amtrak and free speech

Postby mtuandrew » Mon Oct 30, 2017 3:52 pm

There are limits on employees making political statements at all Federal agencies (see the Hatch Act as amended.) Amtrak & USPS as government-owned corporations may not fall under the Act, but probably have similar guidance from their Offices of Special Counsel. However, I’ve never heard of customers being limited on passive speech (buttons, shirts that aren’t vulgar, etc.) and would imagine it is unconstitutional.
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Re: Politics, Amtrak and free speech

Postby STrRedWolf » Mon Oct 30, 2017 7:23 pm

mtuandrew wrote:There are limits on employees making political statements at all Federal agencies (see the Hatch Act as amended.) Amtrak & USPS as government-owned corporations may not fall under the Act, but probably have similar guidance from their Offices of Special Counsel. However, I’ve never heard of customers being limited on passive speech (buttons, shirts that aren’t vulgar, etc.) and would imagine it is unconstitutional.


That's the kicker: Employees are limited, not passengers. If Amtrak had a passenger speech limit hidden in their contract of carriage, there would be lawsuits already.
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Re: Politics, Amtrak and free speech

Postby Greg Moore » Mon Oct 30, 2017 7:55 pm

Yeah. That's what makes this so weird, that an employee would so badly misinterpret the rules.
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Re: Politics, Amtrak and free speech

Postby R36 Combine Coach » Mon Oct 30, 2017 10:58 pm

STrRedWolf wrote:
mtuandrew wrote:There are limits on employees making political statements at all Federal agencies (see the Hatch Act as amended.) Amtrak & USPS as government-owned corporations may not fall under the Act, but probably have similar guidance from their Offices of Special Counsel. However, I’ve never heard of customers being limited on passive speech (buttons, shirts that aren’t vulgar, etc.) and would imagine it is unconstitutional.
USPS is under Hatch Act. I've seen posters at some post offices regarding guidelines on political activity for employees.
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Re: Politics, Amtrak and free speech

Postby mtuandrew » Tue Oct 31, 2017 12:18 am

Apparently Amtrak employees are not covered under the Hatch Act (see letter dated 2006-09-05.) That said, I would be shocked if there was not similar guidance from the Amtrak OSC.

Regardless, the Hatch Act or any Amtrak version doesn’t address this incident, which appears to be a clear violation of the passenger’s First Amendment rights.
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Re: Politics, Amtrak and free speech

Postby Tadman » Sun Nov 05, 2017 2:33 pm

This illustrates a serious beef I have. People have no idea what the first amendment says. Not a bloody clue. Most just call it "the free speech amendment" which is completely missing the point. It is not the free speech amendment. It says that the government cannot control one's speech. A private entity, however, can. If you come into my office, and the sign says "no political buttons or statements", I can absolutely throw you out for breaking my rule. I'm not the government.

Where this gets sticky is that Amtrak is a quasi-governmental organization. Were it a totally private railroad like BNSF, they could tell you what to say and not to say. Were it a governmental organization like the FBI, they absolutely cannot tell you what to say. But quasi-governmental is a grey area, and I would assume the inside counsel has told them to tread very lightly so they dont have to litigate such matters.

But here you have a staff member that didn't get the memo or was confused about it, and I'm sure the passenger invoked their 1st amendment rights because "we get free speech", not understanding the true meaning of the 1st amendment.
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