What's on your flight suit?

Lorrie Heasley got an extra-warm reception in Reno from SouthWest authorities all because of her shirt: "The shirt had pictures of members of the Bush Administration, and a phrase based on the movie "Meet the Fockers," but with one crucial vowel changed."

Here's how it went down:

Heasley boarded her flight Tuesday morning in Los Angeles, headed for Portland, Oregon with a stopover in Reno. But when Southwest Airlines employees asked her to cover her shirt, her stop over became a stop off her flight.
"I was told that basically that I had to cover my shirt, or I was told if I cover the shirt I can basically stay on the plane."
So she covered the shirt, but during a nap while passengers were boarding in Reno the cover came off. And Southwest employees insisted, change the shirt, or change flights. "I didn't feel that I should have to change my shirt, because we live in the United States, and it's freedom of speech and it was based on the movie "The Fockers", and I didn't think it should have offended anyone." [LINK]
Sadly, her fellow passengers turned out to be a little thin-skinned. What's disconcerting, however, is a statement from SouthWest that makes it clear that this is hardly the first time that free speech has been suspended in our unfriendly skies: "We do get it occasionally. What someone is wearing, what someone is reading, what someone might be saying and it's very much a judgment call. But when other customers become concerned we do have to become involved in that and see what we can do to make everyone as comfortable as we can."

Is "fuckers" a particularly colorful word to emblazon on your chest? Sure. But it's no different than wearing the same shirt in a mall, on the street, or at the airport. No corporation should be able to abridge your free speech rights just for sporting a message that some might find offensive. Especially when at least some of the discontented passengers likely have a clear partisan agenda.

Heasley did get to make her statement in a way: she turned down SouthWest's offer of an alternative flight and opted to drive back home instead.

CLARIFICATION: This isn't about partisanship but about corporate vs. individual rights. I only noted that perhaps some of the offended passengers had partisan motives.

So let restate the issue at hand so we can focus our discussion. Did SouthWest have the right to tell her to take off her shirt? If so, where does it end? And who decides what is offensive -- other passengers who happen to occupy the same flight as you; SouthWest?

Consider this NYCLU case that David Addams sent in:
Downs was wearing a T-shirt purchased earlier that day from a retailer at Crossgates Mall with the words “Peace on Earth” on one side and “Give Peace a Chance” on the other. Mall security guards confronted Downs and asked him to remove the T-shirt or leave the mall. Upon his refusal to comply with the guard’s requests, the Guilderland Police Department placed him under arrest. ...
Melanie Trimble, executive director of the Capital Region Chapter of the NYCLU said, "As matter of public policy and common sense, individuals should be allowed to wear clothing that expresses their personal opinions, even their own ideological views. The mall has no right to pick and choose which messages they find offensive."
I agree with her. And no it wouldn't make a difference if she had the picture of the Clintons or FDR. In terms of partisanship, some Republican libertarians would agree with me. So that's the question: where is the line between corporate and individual freedom. Okay, now tell me all the good reasons why I'm horribly wrong about this.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.