The California Supreme Court has been asked to approve an injunction against uttering words on a government-prescribed list of “prohibited epithets.” In the name of protecting workers from verbal harassment on the job, a lower court issued orders directing an employer and its supervisors not to let certain words pass their lips. The words themselves are verboten, regardless of their context or the tone of voice in which they might be used. This would be a drastic new restriction on freedom of speech that California’s justices should reject.

The court heard argument on May 5 in San Francisco. The appeal grew out of a national origin discrimination case against Avis Rent a Car. The company was found to have discriminated against Latino employees in various respects, and one of its supervisors was found to have used racial epithets in referring to three of the employees. The trial judge issued orders forbidding any further discrimination, including using any racial epithets about any Latino workers.

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