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Stephen L. Carter

Yes, Corporations Do Have Free Speech Rights

In North Carolina, it's progressives celebrating that businesses can play politics.
Supporting gay rights.

Supporting gay rights.

Photographer: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

As a free speech near-absolutist, it’s been fun for me to watch my progressive friends cheer as major corporations threaten to boycott states accused of striking the wrong balance on gay and transgender rights. I’m bothered by most of the same state laws that my progressive friends are, but I marvel nevertheless that they think the solution is for big business to throw its weight around. Still, I’m happy to welcome them aboard the yes-corporations-do-have-free-speech-rights ship.

Before you object that the controversy has nothing to do with corporate free speech, imagine that North Carolina or Mississippi or some other state under fire were to adopt the following law: “No private for-profit corporation shall refuse or threaten to refuse to do business within this state, or to do business with any government entity within this state, on the basis of any disagreement with the state’s laws, regulations, or policies.” The statute would then go on to set forth penalties, including heavy fines, for violation.