Corporate Rights to Free Speech?

Journal of Business Ethics 58 (1-3):261-269 (2005)
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. Although the courts have ruled that companies are legal persons, they have not yet made clear the extent to which political free speech for corporations is limited by the strictures legitimately placed upon corporate commercial speech. I explore the question of whether or not companies can properly be said to have the right to civil free speech or whether corporate speech is always de facto commercial speech not subject to the same sorts of legal protections as is the right to civil free speech. In the absence of clearly defined legal precedent, I emphasize moral reasons for determining the appropriate limits of corporate civil free speech. Appealing to arguments typically used to justify individual rights to civil free speech, I examine the extent to which this sort of justification may or may not be legitimately extended to corporations. I conclude that corporate rights to civil free speech must be restricted because granting rights of free speech to institutions may, in practice, undermine the moral rationale and practical feasibility of guaranteeing rights of civil free speech to individuals. Furthermore, I argue that granting corporations full rights to civil free speech will undercut attempts to develop good moral character in corporate institutions by undermining the efforts of watchdog organizations.



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