Free speech and the case of Saily Avelenda

Can you reconcile this with the case of Saily Avelenda? How do you feel when you are sympathetic with the speech, and the person being shown the door? I’m not comfortable with anyone not in a protected class being harassed or fired because someone vindictively told their boss about something they might not like.

Last month, Saily Avelenda, a senior vice president and lawyer for Lakeland Bank, was called into her boss’s office and handed a fundraising letter that Frelinghuysen sent to a member of the bank’s board of directors. It asked for donations to help him fight organized opposition to the Republican agenda. At the bottom of the letter, scrawled in pen next to his signature, there was a note: “P.S. one of the ringleaders works for your bank!”

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i’m not sure what it is that requires reconciliation. the differences between the situation of the students who lost their acceptances to harvard for engaging in activities which were offensive at best and morally repugnant at worst and the situation of a bank executive being treated to a hostile work environment because she was participating in the political process as part of a group calling for their representative to hold a town hall meeting are so large as to be almost incomparable. it’s not so much that you’re trying to compare apples to oranges as it is that you’re trying to compare apples to tire rims.

additionally your quoting the xkcd cartoon as prelude to your request for reconciling those incommensurables is even more confusing. it’s almost as though you don’t quite grasp the point of the cartoon in the first place.


Freedom of Speech would only apply to the Saily Avelenda case if Congress passed a law that said, “Shut up, Saily! Frelinghuysen is our collective bestie!”


Free speech works both ways. (ETA of course someone else already posted this, but whatever, it bears repeating.)


Avelenda wasn’t fired, she resigned because her company’s reaction and “other reasons.” And good on her. So not only was an elected government representative using his position to try and silence her (literally the clearest distinction there is in a freedom of speech conversation), she left voluntarily left after her bosses let it be known they were not happy about it and there wasn’t other employees that reported her activity to her management to get her in trouble (which is the closest analog to other students submitting the actions of the students removed here).

Besides, I thought you were against semi-private chats.


I don’t see how freedom of speech is relevant to that case.

Many states have statutes that prevent people from being fired for their political affiliations because that seems like a good law to have. Having a member of congress out you to your employer for being a gay, trans or a democrat is extremely skeevy and the article I found indicates it may have also been illegal (not unconstitutional, but in violation of a statute).

I don’t know if any states have laws that prevent colleges from denying people admission for posting racist stuff online. Perhaps that’s because that doesn’t seem like it violates someone’s rights.

We can actually tell the difference between bad things and not-bad things, even if we can put them into the same very broad category of “having someone tell someone something you said.” That category includes passing on the loving words of a dying person to someone who couldn’t be there, telling the police that your friend has been amassing bomb-making materials, and calling your friend’s employer three times a day to tell them about your friend’s sexual adventures. It runs the gamut from kind to morally required to violation of trust and harassment.


I quoted the cartoon because I wanted to discuss the cartoon not the Harvard case, which is more complex involving multiple levels of privacy and the name of the institution being involved. The cartoon implies that it’s fair game to fire somebody for something they said or did. I believe it should not be so simple. As just one example, political beliefs is NOT a protected class. Avelenda wasn’t fired, but her work life was made uncomfortable enough for her to leave. Is that really OK?

Did people here really not learn in school of the Red scare and blacklisting of the 50’s? But there’s damaging intel beyond your politics. What if the boss hears you’re polyamorous and that offends their “morals”? They really can fire you for what you do in bed. It’s not one of these protected classes: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status.

The biggest issue to me is whether the person has painted a target on themselves and how public a figure they are. A public rant by a celebrity is different than a personal disclosure to someone you believe is your friend. This is not a right vs left issue, and the comfort that you all seem to feel with this weapon that can cut 2 ways is disturbing.

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swing and another miss.

the cartoon is saying that if private individuals are walking out on you, penalizing you for your statements, or snubbing you because they are offended by your stated beliefs that is not a free speech issue. i don’t have to sit passively and listen to a bigot express their wretched beliefs, i can leave and choose not to associate with them. you seem to be having a remarkably difficult time parsing a fairly simple text.

the enormous difference between the harvard assholes and avelenda which you seem seem to keep missing is that avelenda’s troubles were initiated by a member of the united states house of representatives, an actual member of the government, bringing to bear the status of his office to reach out and cause problems for a private citizen whereas the harvard bigots were penalized for violating a code of conduct which they were or should have been aware of prior to their execrable conduct. these are not similar cases.


No, the cartoon has the offender being shown the door. There’s a difference. You seem to want to pick at the details rather than see the big picture. Had Avelenda’s employers been alerted by a private citizen rather than elected official, it would make no difference to me. Accepting it means accepting someone being harassed at work for their politics when they had not brought their politics to work.

Your example of polyamory shows this problem isn’t about freedom of speech (the subject of the xkcd comic) but about a lack of workers rights. Firings ought to be related to work. I’d wager that at this point the Canadian Supreme Court would likely in polyamory as a protected grounds as it clearly fits in the same area as sexual orientation and familial status. The fact that the US doesn’t even protect sexual orientation is (mind-boggling) evidence that this is a problem with US human rights, and not with freedom of speech.

I’m trying to figure out what it is that “cuts two ways” here. If you disclose something to your friend and they break that confidence, that breach of confidence doesn’t absolve you from the underlying thing you disclosed. The problem with your boss firing you for polyamory isn’t that they were acting on information disclosed in confidence, it’s that they are firing you for polyamory. Above I used the example of telling the police your friend is planning to bomb something. Should the police say, “We can’t do anything about that, your friend told you that in confidence”?

Your friend breaking confidence is being a bad friend. That doesn’t affect what happens to the information after.


I only mean that we need to reasonably protect speech and activities we don’t necessarily sympathise with because ours could be next. Remember the challenge to privacy: “if you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about?” Disclosures about actual lawbreaking is totally outside this issue.

I genuinely don’t know what “reasonably protect” could mean in this case. If this Harvard thing isn’t an example, and Avelenda isn’t really an example, and firing for polyamory isn’t really an example, and disclosing a planned crime isn’t really an example, I just don’t know how this idea would be applied in practice other than thinking badly of people who break their friends’ confidence.


Maybe try again from the beginning, because you have not really made a thesis to your argument yet.


I thought I was pretty clear Avelenda IS an example regardless of who disclosed, and so is polyamory. You said “Firings ought to be related to work.”. I utterly agree. Neither involves a crime. Disclosure of crime is actually codified for therapists, it’s not protected by patient confidentiality.

What’s so hard about this? All I’m defending is there be some lines of privacy in a world where it’s shrunk every day. Isn’t there anything we can agree is over the line for an institution like Harvard to act on? What about someone sending them distasteful excerpts of the student’s private diary? Surely we can agree on that?

So you did want to talk about the Harvard case?


“an institution like Harvard”

I’m going to have to ask again: what is the thesis to your argument? What position are you taking?


strike three.

read the text of the comic–

"it doesn’t mean anyone else has to listen to your bullshit.

or host you while you share it.

the first amendment doesn’t shield you from criticism or consequences.

if you’re (1) yelled at, (2) boycotted, (3) have your show canceled, or (4) get banned from an internet community,

your free speech rights aren’t being violated."

do you understand the concepts of metaphor and analogy? is english your second language which makes it hard to understand figurative language in english?

i’m trying very hard to find a benign rationale for your apparent ineptitude when it comes to understanding some fairly unsophisticated concepts. your persistent conflation of first amendment rights with worker protections, privacy rights, and civil rights only highlights the illogic of your arguments.[quote=“gellfex, post:92, topic:102183”]
Isn’t there anything we can agree is over the line for an institution like Harvard to act on?

if i understand your question, you seem to be asking if there is any level of privacy beyond which a private university cannot ethically or legally go in order to determine whether a prospective student is morally or ethically suitable. if that is your question then i hope the answer is yes, that there should exist some common ground upon which we can agree.

would you agree that making racist, violent, and cruel posts to social media represents an impediment to acceptance within the scope of the harvard code of conduct?


Quoting that xkcd comic made me think this was about free speech rather than privacy.

I’m sorry but I really can’t figure out what you actually want to happen in the world, or how you want people to act. The example of the diary seems like an extreme example that ought to show we have common ground but I’m not sure I see any. I get that you feel that privacy is under assault, but I don’t get what you are proposing be done about it.

Obviously it would be wrong (and actually criminal) to steal someone’s diary and share it with a college they were going to attend. If the diary was not stolen but shared willingly, then we aren’t even talking about sharing a private diary but instead about sharing something someone communicated to you, which is very different.

In the event that the diary was stolen and it contained “distasteful” material, I would say that you shouldn’t judge someone for their private writings because you can’t possibly understand the context of those writings. But what if the diary contained detailed plans to disrupt operations at the university, revealing the student has no intent to complete a degree but rather just wants to disrupt Harvard’s administration? (in a non-criminal way, though I don’t see this as a clear distinction)

No, I actually can’t think of a line. I can’t think of any trust that could have been breached that would allow me to categorically say, “I would pretend not to know information acquired through such a breach of trust.” What the breach of trust does do is help me contextualize the information. Like I said, I’d almost never hold someone’s private writings against them because I have no way of understanding them. I would think differently of jokes made in a small private chat room than jokes made on a twitter account or a facebook page. I’d deal very differently with my teenager’s friend telling me my kid had a drinking problem than I would with my kid telling me themselves that they had a drinking problem; or with my spouse’s friend telling me my spouse was cheating on me compared to my spouse telling me. But to say, “this crossed a line, I shouldn’t know this so I will act as if I don’t.” I can’t imagine a scenario.

But I’m not sure that’s even what you are saying. Like I said, I really don’t even know what you are saying. Let me ask you, in your own example, where someone sends Harvard excerpts from a private diary, what do you think they should do and why?


ugh. I don’t want to speak for @gellfex, but there are two entirely separate issues here - is it legal, and is it right (in some vaguely defined way). What transpired is pretty obviously legal, and I don’t think anyone has argued that it wasn’t

This case has some superficial resemblance to some other cases that I have infinitely more sympathy for, like Alison Rapp who seems to have been terminated as the result of a social media kerfuffle.

even if you want to argue for some kind of separation between social media and real life, this harvard thing is basically the worst of all possible test cases. There have absolutely been cases (and I’m thinking here of Justine Sacco) where the public response to some online stupidity has had consequences for the offender than were arguably out of proportion to the offense, but this isn’t one of those cases. The fact that social media lead to bad real-life consequences doesn’t mean that the consequences in this case were unjustified or out of proportion