First Amendment rights on and off the job

Employees Fired for Off-Duty Exercises in Free Speech

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Where should Americans draw the line between freedom of speech and the workplace? That is one of the questions surrounding the dismissal of National Public Radio (NPR) news analyst Juan Williams. Appearing with Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, Williams said he gets nervous when he sees airline passengers wearing traditional Muslim clothing.

According to the Associated Press, NPR fired Williams, saying that his remarks "were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR." Williams had been with National Public Radio since 2000.

During his Fox News appearance, Juan Williams was acting in an official capacity for NPR, but other individuals have been dismissed for exercising their First Amendment rights off the clock.

Recently, New Jersey Transit worker Derek Fenton was fired for participating in a demonstration against the planned mosque near Ground Zero. During the protest, an off-duty Fenton burned a few pages from the Koran as a symbol of his displeasure.

Although the Internet has long been an undiscovered country in regards to freedom of speech, things are rapidly changing in cyberspace.

Daniel P. Finney, a former reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, lost his job in 2004 for what he thought was an anonymous blog. Using a pseudonym, Finney kept an online diary, mentioning details about his job with the newspaper. Finney was suspended and later fired.

There are cases, though, where freedom of speech evolves into what can only be seen as cyber bullying.

On his own time, Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell launched a cyber-attack against Chris Armstrong, the student assembly president at the University of Michigan. Shirvell attacked Armstrong, who is openly gay, for his "radical homosexual agenda" and started a blog called the "Chris Armstrong Watch."

Shirvell still holds his office, but Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox issued a statement mentioning that Shirvell's "immaturity and lack of judgment outside the office are clear." Currently, Shirvell is on a leave of absence and will face a disciplinary hearing when he returns to work.

The rise of social networking has created a new concern for job seekers and those currently in the workplace. In addition to a professional appearance, workers must also keep an eye on their "cyber presence."

Waitress Ashley Johnson took out some of her job frustrations on her Facebook page. Johnson worked past the end of her shift to wait on two customers, but was unhappy with the size of their tip. An angry update on her Facebook page led to Johnson's dismissal.

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