Derek Fenton, an employee of the New Jersey Transit Authority, was fired because he expressed himself by burning several pages of the Qur’an during a 9-11 demonstrations in New York City. No charges were brought against him by police for his exercise of his right of free expression.
But what good is the right of free expression if your employer fires you for exercising it? He apparently violated New Jersey Transit’s “code of ethics.” Can we all say “sue the bast—ds?” Assuming he was not on the clock, he has every right to express constitutionally protected speech that breaks no law.
Having worked for various governmental agencies during my 35-year career, it is true that government employees are under a magnifying glass insofar as public expression goes. I refrained from any political activity in equal parts because of that microscope as well as not feeling that motivated to participate or demonstrate. But employees right of free expression should not be suppressed when such expression has nothing to do with the functioning of their job.
As a larger and larger proportion of workers become employed by public agencies, there will be an increasing tendency for the rights of such employees’ exercise their free speech to be suppressed. Government employers tend to be much more sensitive to employee free expression than private employers. Employee loss of this right seems to come with the territory of public employment. Increasing public employment is the road to our nations’ employees losing their first amendment rights. We need to rethink the current limits of pubic employee rights of free expression.
Derek didn’t demonstrate to have longer trains or to cram twice as many riders into them. Perhaps his employer thought he might incite Muslims to blow up trains? Sane people don’t blow up trains because their book is burned. Free speech should not be suppressed because a certain group of people react to any provocation in a psychotic manner. If that was the reason for his firing, then New Jersey Transit is a dhimmi inappropriately intimidated by Islamic threats. Our government and media are way way too sensitive to Islamic intimidation. At this rate, Islam will intimidate our nation out of our first amendment rights without needing to impose Sharia law or blowing up another building.
Let us hope the courts will see the danger of government suppression of free speech in this case and New Jersey transit loses the lawsuit that is sure to be filed.