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Citizens are generally protected from being prosecuted by the Federal government over disagreeing with policy.

Although the State of Florida (not the Federal Government) has imposed seemingly punitive measures against Disney:

Jenna Ellis, a former Trump campaign lawyer, called the new Florida law "vengeful" and pointed to statements from DeSantis and other Florida Republicans that she said made clear they had illegally retaliated against Disney's "constitutionally protected speech."

Do Corporations enjoy speech protection?

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  • constitution.findlaw.com/amendment1/… and supreme.findlaw.com/supreme-court-insights/… may be a good starting point for your reading. Commented May 6, 2022 at 18:24
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    passing a law because the government is mad at a company is not the same as passing a law to restrict the conany's speech. There is no requirement that all companies be treated the same.
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented May 6, 2022 at 20:46
  • @TigerGuy that's an interesting point. But in this case I think it's more like a removal of special privileges than abridgment of rights, at least as far as I understand it. That makes it even more complex. In general though Corporations do enjoy free speech protections, though the exact situation is more complex.
    – DRF
    Commented May 7, 2022 at 17:16
  • "illegally retaliated" (?) by passing a law that denies Disney's "constitutionally protected speech" ? Doubtful. ... "pointed to statements from DeSantis" - then the question is if governors have free speech. A governor saying something is not Congress passing a law abridging freedom of speech. It's not illegal to be a jackass.
    – Mazura
    Commented May 8, 2022 at 1:01

2 Answers 2

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Yes.

The Court has recognized that First Amendment protection extends to corporations. ... This protection has been extended by explicit holdings to the context of political speech. ... Under the rationale of these precedents, political speech does not lose First Amendment protection “simply because its source is a corporation.”

Citizens United v. Fed. Election Comm'n, 558 U.S. 310, 342 (2010).

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Courts have long treated corporations as being, in legal parlance, "legal persons", which means that they can be parties to legal actions (both sue and be sued) and assert constitutional rights. This goes back at least to Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, decided in 1886, which said

The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.

This was reaffirmed in Citizens United v FEC, which found that prohibiting criticism of politicians is unconstitutional, even if it's a corporation doing the criticizing. So taking your question "Do Corporations enjoy speech protection?" as literally meaning "Are there free speech rights that corporations can assert?", the answer is a resounding "Yes".

However, the rest of your question seems to be asking about the extent of free speech protections, rather than their mere existence. Citizens United has somewhat dishonestly been characterized as "The Supreme Court has said that corporations are people", but the courts do distinguish between corporations and "actual" human beings, or, as they are referred to in legal parlance, "natural persons". For instance, natural persons have a dollar limit as to how much money they can directly give to a candidate, while corporations are completely barred from direct contributions.

Furthermore, it's not entirely clear what the limits regarding retributive state action are even in the case of a natural person. Suppose a natural person had a contract with the government, and the government decided to terminate the contract after the person criticized the government. Would that be constitutional? There would be a range of fact-based arguments to be made to that question. Certainly, simply because someone has criticized the government does not mean that the government is now prohibited from taking any action that would be against their interests. But on the other hand, there is a point at which government favoritism based on preferred speech rises to unconstitutionality. If the termination of Disney's special status had been truly unrelated to Disney's speech, Disney would have difficulty making a case for it being a violation of the First Amendment, but it would be difficult to argue that the two things are simply coincidental, even without the repeated Republican statements explicitly tying their actions to Disney's actions.

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    It's actually quite a bit more complex even in the case of natural persons. For example if you are a governors aide and engage in generally protected speech criticizing your governor it is ok for the governor to remove you from your position or likely even to fire you out right. There are more issues (which relate to the Disney the case) when the "retributive action" is a removal of special privileges as opposed to removal of rights. The lawsuit that might come out of this case will be very interesting and is certainly not clean cut.
    – DRF
    Commented May 7, 2022 at 8:11
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    What really frustrates me about Citizens United is the way some people claim that they don't want corporations to have free speech, but at the same time everyone agrees that it would be grossly unconstitutional for the government to (e.g.) tell Disney to remove a scene from a movie based on its political slant. Disney is a corporation, you can't have it both ways.
    – Kevin
    Commented May 7, 2022 at 19:55
  • @DRF I think for some people (police, fire fighters, tax office etc. ) the government is their employer, and your employer can have rights that the government doesn't have. For example, UK police believed that an officer on sick leave wasn't really sick and investigated. What they did would have usually been illegal for the police to do, but legal for an employer, and they were allowed in their role as an employer to check whether this officer was unable to leave his home (as he claimed) or not.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 13:20

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