Republicans have been trying for years to convince us that corporations have First Amendment rights — at least, that is, when it works in their favor.
Protecting free speech was the principle behind the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United v. FEC case, which lifted the ban on corporate spending in elections and opened the spigot for unlimited outside spending. Religious freedom is the rallying cry in a raft of efforts to give businesses the ability to deny birth control to their employees or to refuse service to customers based on their sexual orientation.
So it was an outrageous act of hypocrisy — not to mention dubious constitutionality — when Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who leads the Georgia Senate, tweeted this on Monday about his state’s largest private employer:
Delta Air Lines is one of a growing number of corporations that is severing its ties to the National Rifle Association in the wake of the massacre of 17 students and educators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. It decided to discontinue travel discounts to NRA members out of what the airline said was “respect for our customers and employees on both sides. We felt it was best to remove ourselves from the current debate and remain neutral.”
In other words, it was a business decision, made not to promote a political agenda, but to distance the airline from controversy by treating NRA members just like its other customers.
This was not the first time the airline has withdrawn its support of a venture that has become politically hot. Last year, Delta pulled its sponsorship from New York City’s Public Theater over the “graphic staging” in its production of “Julius Caesar,” which featured a Trump look-alike in the role of the assassinated Roman ruler.
In this case, the issue is a $50 million jet fuel sales tax exemption, promoted by Gov. Nathan Deal (R), that would primarily benefit Delta. It has already passed the House, as part of a broader tax bill.
There is a reasonable argument to be had over whether that kind of tax break is smart economic development on the state’s part, or corporate welfare. But Cagle’s threat makes it clear that what’s really going on here is political retribution, not economic policy.
In Georgia, it would seem, a business’s First Amendment rights stop at the Second Amendment.