America, listen: You have a priceless right under the First Amendment (and almost certainly under your state’s constitution) that prevents government agents from restricting your speech.
However, these rights don’t extend to private businesses — a restaurant, say, or a privately-owned airplane. Those places are not part of the government.
A college student from New York failed to understand this critical distinction. Consequently, he spent several hours stranded in St. Louis for refusing to remove a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Broad Fucking City” on a Southwest Airlines flight ready to takeoff.
The student is Daniel Podolsky, St. Louis Fox affiliate KTVI reports.
Podolsky was on a flight en route from Dallas to Chicago. He ended up in St. Louis due to a bout of depressing Midwestern weather.
For his journey, Podolsky chose to wear his new black T-shirt with the words “Broad Fucking City” in big, bold, white words.
He acquired the shirt as a freebie from Comedy Central at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Comedy Central had given away a number of the shirts to promote a show about a couple slacker twentysomething women called “Broad City.”
When his flight made an unexpected stop at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, Podolsky chose to get off the plane for a quick trip to a land-based restroom.
A Southwest employee spotted the shirt after Podolsky returned to the plane and removed his jacket. The employee asked the student to remove it.
Podolsky refused, he said, citing his own comfort as the rationale.
“It’s only when I got back on the plane when it was gonna take off, ya know, you have this much space, you’re gonna take your jacket off because it’s hot,” he told KTVI. “I took my jacket off, so he sent someone to remove me from the flight.”
Podolsky swore he “would have gladly” changed out of the shirt had he had the opportunity. However, the very video he furnished to the Fox affiliate tells a different story.
In the video, a Southwest employee pretty clearly tries to help Podolsky find a way to get on a Southwest flight.
Here’s the transcript, according to IJ Review:
Southwest employee: “Can you change the shirt?”
Southwest employee: “Can you put the jacket on and leave it on through the flight?”
Southwest employee: “Can you put the shirt on inside out?”
Southwest employee: “Is there anything you can do not to display the shirt because at this point we can’t allow you to go.”
Podolsky: “I have freedom of speech.”
Southwest employee: “I know you do …”
Podolsky: “Really it’s not bothering anyone.”
Southwest employee: “I can show you in our contract of carriage that you can’t wear any shirts that say offensive …”
Podolsky: “Can we take a poll?”
At some point after this altercation, airport police arrived to escort the frustrated student out of the terminal.
Podolsky later contacted KTVI.
“Is it really in the airline’s position to make that call?” he asked.
Podolsky did eventually make it out of St. Louis that same evening. Southwest Airlines graciously allowed him to board a 7:15 flight on the condition that he change the offending shirt, which he did.
He arrived safely in New York.