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I frequently see comments by semi-anonymous people stating that if an organization receives public funds then they have to respect people's freedom of speech, or they can't discriminate on the basis of sex, religion, or race, or they have to abide by some other well known provision in the US constitution.

Is this true? Do Organizations that receive public funds really have to follow the Constitution in the same way that an arm of the government does?

And If the answers is "Some do, and some Don't", then how do I tell the difference?

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The US Constitution (broadly) does three things:

  1. It defines how the government should operate

  2. It places certain powers in the hands of certain individuals (branches of government, federal government vs states, etc.)

  3. It restricts the actions and powers of government (originally the federal government, and thought the 14th amendment, the states, and through them, municipal governments).

The main thing is that there is a distinction between a governmental organization (which is effectively a portion of the government) and an organization that is funded in whole or in part by the government (The difference being if the government controls the organization or appoints (some of) it's leads, such as the FBI or Federal Reserve). Generally, the latter is not bound by the Constitution; however, it may be bound by laws or grant stipulations.

Elaborating on your three questions:

  1. Free Speech: Constitutionally, no one but the government is restricted from moderating someone else's speech. There may, however, be legal repercussions, but not constitutional issues.

  2. Discrimination on protected characteristics: This is not forbidden by the Constitution, at least not in the way it is is meant colloquially. The Constitution only prohibits discrimination in access to voting, and then only for race, color, sex, and prior servitude. However, such discrimination is illegal, due to laws, such as the Civil Rights Act.

  3. A non-governmental organization that receives funds from the government constitutionally is no different than one that does not. Legally, there may be differences.

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  • For the point about the civil rights act, am I correct in assuming that those kinds of discrimination laws apply even if the organization does not receive money from the government? – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Oct 24 '17 at 18:29
  • Secondly, when I come across this claim in the future, I'd like to be able to cite something authoritative when and if I tell them they're wrong. What should I cite? It's hard to search for something this because of the number of false positives I get. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Oct 24 '17 at 18:34
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    @SamIam: Yes, those anti-discrimination laws apply even if no money is received; in fact, they apply to all persons in the united states. You can read more about the Civil Rights Act here (and it has citations in the first line to the text itself, as well as a useful overview and links) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Rights_Act_of_1964 – sharur Oct 24 '17 at 19:02
  • When I asked for something to cite, I meant for the fact that NGOs that receive government money are constitutionally no different than NGOs that don't. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Oct 24 '17 at 19:36
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    @ohwilleke: While I agree the Federal Reserve is partially private, considering that none of the board of governors are appointed by the "shareholders", but instead by the President and the Senate of the United States, I wouldn't call it "basically a private corporation". I think a short and accurate summery of the position of the Federal Reserve is "its complicated". – sharur Feb 13 '19 at 0:13
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It is not part of the Constitution.

When people say that, they're probably thinking of some federal statute, such as the Civil Rights act of 1964 Title Title VI

SEC. 601. No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Understand that even though this specific section of this specific law only applies to "race, color, or national origin", it doesn't mean that there can't be other laws that deal with other criteria.

also see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Rights_Act_of_1964

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  • This answer doesn't give any evidence for the assertion, and the conjecture about what people are probably thinking is off target. – user6726 Feb 13 '19 at 0:55
  • @user6726 do you have a more plausible hypothesis to explain why someone would think "that if an organization receives public funds then they have to respect people's freedom of speech, or they can't discriminate on the basis of sex, religion, or race, or they have to abide by some other well known provision in the US constitution"? If so, please post it as a comment or an answer. – phoog Feb 14 '19 at 8:54

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