Tuesday, October 18, 2005
FIRST AMENDMENT: Southwest Airlines statement on T-shirt case
In regard to the recent news coverage about Southwest.s decision to
deplane a female passenger in Reno for refusing to cover up a t-shirt that
contained inappropriate and vulgar language (she was repeatedly asked to
put on the sweater she was carrying), Southwest would like to offer the
Southwest Airlines supports the right of freedom of speech in the United
States. Southwest also supports the rights of our Customers when traveling
on Southwest and our Employees to not have to be confronted with
offensive, even inciting profanity displayed by another Customer onboard a
Southwest's Customer Contract of Carriage states that: "Persons whose
conduct is or has been known to be disorderly, abusive, offensive,
threatening, intimidating, or violent, or whose clothing is lewd, obscene,
or patently offensive" may be denied boarding.
This situation does not concern politics or political views. Rather, the
Customer wore a t-shirt displaying language that is so offensive that for
example, by federal regulation it cannot be aired by public broadcast or
printed in a newspaper.
AND HERE IS AN OPINION PIECE FROM THE WEBSITE OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST
FIRST-PERSON: T-shirt wearer needs civility training
Oct 7, 2005
By Kelly Boggs
Kelly Boggs is pastor of the Portland-area Valley Baptist Church in
McMinnville, Ore. His column appears each Friday in Baptist Press.
McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)--A Washington state woman was removed from a
Southwest Airlines flight Oct. 4 because fellow passengers found a word on
her T-shirt to be overly offensive. Her response to the action, according
to media reports, is to .press a civil-rights case. against the airline.
Lorrie Heasley of Woodland, Wash., boarded her flight at Los Angeles
International Airport sporting a shirt bearing the images of President
Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and
a profane phrase reading "Meet the [expletive]" -- a takeoff on a 2004
movie starring Ben Stiller, Robert DeNiro and Barbra Streisand.
When the plane stopped at Reno, several passengers complained about the
lewd language on Heasley.s T-shirt. It was then that flight attendants
asked her to cover up the profane word.
According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, Heasley indicated that she
attempted to conceal the crude communication with a sweatshirt. However,
when trying to sleep she said the sweatshirt slipped allowing the indecent
expression to be visible.
When flight attendants informed Heasley that she must turn the shirt
inside-out or leave, she and her husband left the plane.
After a dispute with the airline over reimbursement for the last leg of
their flight, the couple chose to get a hotel in Reno, rent a car and
drive back to Washington.
.I will never fly with them [Southwest Airlines] again,. Heasley said.
.They can disrespect somebody else..
While flight attendants could have handled the situation differently, the
real problem was created by Ms. Heasley, who believes her right to free
speech is absolute.
Scads of people think the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives
them the right to act like spoiled brats and communicate anything their
They are wrong.
The drafters of the First Amendment intended to protect an individual who
wanted to take issue with the government and/or its leaders. They were
primarily concerned with protecting political speech, not profanity or
Through the years, particularly in the latter half of the 20th century,
the Supreme Court substantially broadened the understanding of free speech
to the point that it now even includes virtual kiddie porn.
However, even with the court.s .enlightened. application of the First
Amendment, free speech is not without limits.
The First Amendment is often misunderstood, and people fail to realize
that it only protects an individual from action by the government. Freedom
of speech does not extend into the private sector.
In the case of Ms. Heasley, Southwest Airlines is a private company and
maintains rules that allow it to deny boarding to any customer whose
conduct is .offensive, abusive, disorderly or violent or for clothing that
is lewd, obscene, or patently offensive..
Southwest Airlines has the right to ban a passenger wearing an article of
clothing emblazoned with lewd language. The only mistake flight attendants
made was allowing Heasley on the plane with her crass shirt in the first
Even with the Supreme Court.s broadened understanding of free speech, the
government has the ability to restrict certain aspects of public
Perhaps the most well-known regulation of speech is time, place and
manner. A person does not have the right to yell fire in a crowded
building when there is no fire. The government can also enforce noise
Other areas of speech the Supreme Court has said the First Amendment does
not protect are obscenity, defamation, "fighting-words" and speech that
incites illegal action.
On second thought, people like Ms. Heasley probably need a remedial course
in civility rather than a primer on the First Amendment.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines civility as .courteous behavior;
politeness.. P.M. Forni, a professor at John.s Hopkins University once
wrote, .Civility is key in learning how to live well with others..
Jesus provided a succinct formula for civility when he instructed, .Do
unto others as you would have them do unto you.. In other words, treat
people the way you want to be treated.
Ms. Heasley.s reaction to her treatment by Southwest Airlines indicates
she felt she was treated with a lack of civility. In her words, she was
I wonder if Ms. Heasley has stopped to ponder how many people she
disrespected by her vulgar display? If you want to be treated with
respect, you must extend respect.
While the First Amendment provides great latitude in speech, to the point
of being offensive, civility requires that we consider others before
speaking -- or in Ms. Heasley.s case, dressing.