Schools Must Not Fire Employee Over Hateful Speech, Says ACLU of Ohio
COLUMBUS—An employee with the Columbus City Schools may lose his job following posts he made to the Columbus Pride Festival and Parade’s official Facebook page. Chris Dodds, a garage assistant supervisor, posted homophobic messages saying he believed that gay people, “should be killed or at least relocated,” and, “I hope this event turns out like the Boston Marathon a few year’s (sic) back.”
“Such vile words are hard to stomach, but those words are also protected speech,” said Elizabeth Bonham, staff attorney at the ACLU of Ohio. “It hurts to see hate like this, especially during PRIDE month – a month of joy and celebration for my community. But a government employer cannot censor its employees’ protected statements, no matter the content,” said Bonham.
Although Dodds posted his comment to the Pride event’s page, he did not identify or make threats to any particular individual, nor did he indicate that he planned to take any action based on his beliefs. Dodds’ comments were apparently made from his personal account, on personal time, and were unrelated to his employment. Courts have routinely held that speech such as Dodds’ is protected by the First Amendment.
“While these words are painful to read, allowing Mr. Dodds to be punished for using them would be a danger for us all,” added Bonham. “The LGBTQ community’s own history is rich with examples of the government silencing us. When we allow the government to pick and choose what speech is acceptable and what is not, it is inevitable that censorship will increase—including censorship of LGBTQ voices.”
“Suppressing speech is not the way to fight discrimination. We will continue our work to ensure that the LGBTQ community is free from prejudice. We will also be vigilant against threats to free speech. Both goals are achievable and in fact they are connected,” concluded Bonham.