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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Flipping the Bird Protected Speech? Not for Public Employees at the Office

I have my occasionally beefs with South Dakota's Public Utilities Commission, but at least they aren't GOP yahoos like their North Dakota counterparts on the Public Service Commission. I learn from Prairie Sun Rising that a PSC employee was allowed to hang two anti-Obama posters in public view in the PSC space in the North Dakota Capitol. One poster mocks President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize; the other features a little girl poutily raising her middle finger and calling the President a seven-letter synonym for anus.

The North Dakota commissioners plead ignorance and say the posters are inappropriate. But the commissioner running for re-election, Kevin Cramer, tries to turn the posters into a First Amendment issue:

Commissioner Kevin Cramer said he agrees the posters were “distasteful” and were “inappropriate” to have in clear view of the hallway. However, he also supports freedom of speech.

“I think of all the places in North Dakota that stand as a symbol of free expression, the state Capitol is the best,” he said [Teri Finneman, "North Dakota Democrats attack PSC for anti-Obama posters," Fargo-Moorhead Forum, 2010.07.07].

I beg to differ. Mocking the President's Nobel award might pass Constitutional muster. But if I go the State Capitol and start flipping people the bird, I'll expect to get thrown out. Heck, I've been fired from a public job for using the above-mention a-word.

The posters are down now, and that's no infringement of the First Amendment, at least in the case of the finger poster. Public employees like me are entitled to speak our minds on political issues, but not with public displays of obscenity in the office.

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