• Educators sacked for voicing their opinions points to irrelevancy of free speech guarantees.
By Dave Gahary —
If you had any reservations that freedom of speech in the United States is a quaint concept that has been sacrificed on the altar of political correctness and expediency, it’s time to abandon all hope. A series of separate incidences in the Sunshine and Lone Star states clearly illustrate that the freedom to voice one’s opinion, as memorialized in the U.S. Constitution as well as these state’s constitutions, may be an endangered relic of bygone days.
The latest incident followed a widely publicized scuffle that unfolded in the town of McKinney, Texas, where a white police officer manhandled a black teenager after police received complaints of a disturbance at a pool party where around 100 teens, many black, were celebrating the end of school. Around a dozen officers responded when a group of black interlopers “jumped the fence and confronted a security guard, who called police,” and “a white resident allegedly swore at a black resident and told her to return to public housing,” which resulted in a fight breaking out. The incident wound its way around the Internet and across the world, and three days later, the officer, “David Eric Casebolt, a 10-year veteran of the department, voluntarily stepped down amid an internal police investigation and surging public pressure, including death threats.”
The private pool is in a majority-white neighborhood in McKinney, which was ranked No. 1 by Money magazine as “Best Places to Live 2014.” The city, about 30 miles northeast of Dallas with a population of around 155,000 and a median family income of nearly $100,000, was “the nation’s fastest growing city from 2000 to 2003 and again in 2006, among cities with more than 50,000 people.” Not exactly your average hotbed of racial tension, real or imagined.
When a story of the fracas appeared on the website of the Miami Herald, the largest newspaper in south Florida, the principal of a Miami high school made the mistake of believing that free speech still existed in this country, when he placed a three-sentence comment, using his Facebook account, under the article:
“He did nothing wrong. He was afraid for his life. I commend him for his actions.”
Principal Alberto Iber was almost immediately removed from his position and “was assigned to administrative duties until he is reassigned.”
“Miami-Dade County Public Schools employees are held to a higher standard, and by School Board policy, are required to conduct themselves, both personally and professionally, in a manner that represents the school district’s core values,” read a statement from school officials.
There was no mention of our cherished right to free speech enshrined in our founding documents by the elite media, nor were there any calls to step back, take a deep breath, and reassess the matter. He was gone in a flash, his right to free expression trampled, his life forever altered, and all of us worse for the wear after this and all the other assaults on our most basic right.
About 350 miles due west from McKinney sits Lubbock, Texas, the 11th most populous city in the state (almost double of McKinney) and “the largest contiguous cotton-growing region in the world.” Lubbock High School is recognized as one of the top high schools in the U.S. by Newsweek magazine, and the city hosts the largest free festival in Texas for Independence Day. It was in just on the outskirts of this city that Karen Fitzgibbons, a fourth-grade teacher at an elementary school in Wolfforth (pop. 3,670), felt it was safe to make a June 9 Facebook about the incident in McKinney, apparently unaware that our God-given right to say what we want is under attack:
“This makes me ANGRY! This officer should not have had to resign. I’m just going to just go ahead and say it . . . the blacks are the ones causing the problems and this ‘racial tension.’ I guess that’s what happens when you flunk out of school and have no education. I’m sure their parents are just as guilty for not knowing what their kids were doing; or knew and didn’t care. I’m almost to the point of wanting them all segregated on one side of town so they can hurt each other and leave the innocent people alone. Maybe the 50s and 60s were really on to something. Now, let the bashing of my true and honest opinion begin . . . GO!”
School officials released a statement saying they were “deeply disappointed in the thoughtlessness conveyed by this employee’s post. We find these statements to be extremely offensive, insensitive, and disrespectful to our . . . community and citizens everywhere. These comments in no way represent the educational environment we have created for our students. We hold our employees responsible for their public conduct even when they are not on active duty as district employees. Employees are held to the same professional standards in their public use of electronic media as they are for any other public conduct. This recent conduct was unacceptable.”
Ms. Fitzgibbons was obviously unaware that the First Amendment was disregarded when she apologized and tried to use reason to keep her job.
“It was not an educational post; it was a personal experience post,” she told a local paper.
Those familiar with the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights are correct to state that these documents only apply to the federal government, but what about the individual state constitutions?
To see where Florida stands on the issue, all one need do is take a look at their constitution:
SECTION 4. Freedom of speech and press.—Every person may speak, write and publish sentiments on all subjects but shall be responsible for the abuse of that right. No law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press. In all criminal prosecutions and civil actions for defamation the truth may be given in evidence. If the matter charged as defamatory is true and was published with good motives, the party shall be acquitted or exonerated.
Same goes for the Texas constitution:
Sec. 8. FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND PRESS; LIBEL. Every person shall be at liberty to speak, write or publish his opinions on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of that privilege; and no law shall ever be passed curtailing the liberty of speech or of the press. In prosecutions for the publication of papers, investigating the conduct of officers, or men in public capacity, or when the matter published is proper for public information, the truth thereof may be given in evidence. And in all indictments for libels, the jury shall have the right to determine the law and the facts, under the direction of the court, as in other cases.
We should all be asking the same question: what happened to this once-great nation, and what can we do to get it back?
Dave Gahary, a former submariner in the U.S. Navy, is the host of AFP’s ‘Underground Interview’ series.