READ IT: Worker's Blog Sparks Free-Speech Debate
LANSING, Mich. — A Michigan prosecutor who used his personal blog to attack the openly gay student body president at the University of Michigan has spurred debate about public employees' rights to say terrible things on their own time.
Andrew Shirvell, 30, started a blog in April in which he regularly lambasted 21-year-old Christopher Armstrong as a racist with a "radical homosexual agenda." Shirvell has said that when he's not at work, he has a right to say whatever he wants.
Cliff Sloan, a First Amendment expert with the New York-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom law firm, said public employers must be careful because the First Amendment says government can "make no law abridging the freedom of speech." Still, judges and state officials have some discretion when comes to dealing with workers, he said.
"While they have a right to free speech, they don't have a right to a public service job," said Sloan, the former publisher of Slate magazine and a partner in Skadden, Arps' Washington office. "Government can set some limits on the appropriate conduct and behavior of their employees."
Free speech is less of an issue in the private sector, where companies have far more leeway to decide what workers can say. Where the line is drawn with government jobs seems to vary from state to state. In Kansas, workers involved in controversial protests have kept their jobs, while those in New Jersey and Nebraska have been fired.
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