Galveston County Daily News. Feb. 6, 2014.
There’s confusion about the First Amendment
News that authorities are looking at comments that a La Marque Fire Department captain made on his personal social media account has led to some confusion about the First Amendment.
Capt. Alfred Decker is on paid leave while authorities investigate posts on his Facebook page.
One post is an illustration showing President Barack Obama with a noose around his neck. It’s titled “The making of a National Holiday.”
Another post uses using derogatory language directed at women, including Houston Mayor Annise Parker.
There were no privacy restrictions on the posts. They were published for the world to see. Decker identified himself as a longtime employee of the fire department.
The review will determine whether all that activity violated city policy.
Decker is entitled to due process. But the decision to put him on paid leave angered his supporters. That’s led to a confused discussion about the First Amendment and what’s meant by constitutionally protected speech.
The First Amendment protects citizens from prior restraint, meaning that the government cannot prevent citizens from saying what they want to say.
However, the amendment does not protect a citizen from the consequences of his action.
If a citizen yells “fire” in a crowded theater and people are hurt as a consequence, he is responsible for the consequences.
Similarly, if a person gets up in front of a civic club and accuses his boss of stealing money from the company, the First Amendment doesn’t protect the speaker from getting fired.
The city of La Marque cannot prevent an employee from speaking.
But it can and should hold employees - especially those in higher level positions of trust - accountable for what they say in public.