September 19, 2010

New Jersey Transit fired an employee last week for burning a Koran in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11 in his off-duty hours. Whether public agencies can control or punish their employees for speech they engage in when they are not on the job has been a matter of dispute. For instance, a federal appellate court ruled in a 2002 case, Pappas v. Giuliani, that a New York City police officer could be fired for mailing racist material from his home. But in other cases, government employees have been protected in their free speech rights...People often balk at the notion that the government cannot fire employees for offensive, off-the-job speech. It is important to remember, however, that the right that protects this type of speech is the very same right that protects employees who courageously step forward and expose misconduct or worse by the government.