Is NPR Bound by the First Amendment in Its Hiring/Firing Decisions?

A bunch of people have asked me whether NPR’s firing of Juan Williams for his statement about Muslims on The O’Reilly Factor violates the First Amendment. The answer is “no.” NPR is not a government actor, and thus not bound by the First Amendment; that it gets some funding from the government does not make it a government actor, just as private colleges’ getting grants and other benefits doesn’t make them government actors bound by the First Amendment. See Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830 (1982) (so holding, even as to a school that got 90% of its money from the government).

The government may by statute impose many conditions on the use of government funds — that’s what Congress did with Title VI and Title IX (which generally bar recipients of federal funds from discriminating based on race and sex). Congress thus might condition NPR’s funding on its not firing commentators based on their off-NPR speech. (I say “might” because there are some twists which I set aside for now.) But Congress hasn’t enacted such a statute, and it is of course under no obligation to do so.