Jeanne Hedgepeth was a social studies teacher at Palatine High School in Illinois for twenty years before she was fired for posting her opinions about white privilege, race baiters, Democrats, abortion, and some other topics on her Facebook page. She posted her views on her private time and did not identify herself as a teacher at Palatine High School. Even still, some former students criticized her post and a Black Lives Matter activist demanded she be fired. Hedgepeth submitted a letter of resignation, but then rescinded her resignation. After an investigation of her Facebook post, the Township High School District 211 board members voted 5-2 to terminate her employment.
Judicial Watch is suing Township High School District 211 and its board members on behalf of Hedgepeth, claiming that her “protected speech was a substantial or motivating factor in (District 211’s) decision to terminate Plaintiff’s employment, and, but for Plaintiff’s protected speech, Defendants would not have terminated Plaintiff’s employment.” Judicial Watch is arguing that Hedgepeth’s firing was a violation of her First Amendment right to free speech. She was simply expressing her own opinion on Facebook, and doing so on her own time (she was on vacation at the time of the post) and with nothing to identify her or connect her to her teaching position at Palatine High School.
Hedgepeth will almost certainly win, and she should. You can read her post below. Hedgepeth shouldn’t win because there’s nothing wrong with her post. She should win regardless of whether there is anything wrong with her post. It doesn’t matter whether or not one agrees with what Hedgepeth wrote, either all of it or part of it or none of it. What matters is that a free people are free to express their opinions on public forums free from negative consequences from their employers. If that isn’t what the First Amendment protects, then it protects nothing.
Of course, there are those out there who wouldn’t mind at all if the First Amendment protected nothing, other than their own opinions. In their minds, you don’t have freedom of speech; you only have the “right” to agree with them and express your agreement with them. In their minds, once you become an employee of an organization or institution, that organization or institutions owns you at every moment of every day of your life while you remain under their employ. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing on your own time. It doesn’t matter if nothing you write can connect you with your employer. One of the most popular strategies for activists who don’t like your opinions is to make so much noise and put so much pressure on your employer that you get fired, even for exercising your First Amendment right to free speech.
Last June, a Kentucky woman who worked as a licensed Hearing Instrument Specialist was fired from her job after she criticized Black Lives Matter on a Facebook video she made. Organizers contacted her employer and threatened to riot and protest if she was not fired. Last July, a Michigan school teacher was fired from his position simply for posting, “I’m tired of being silent. Donald Trump is our president.” Last August, an Illinois doctor with three decades of medical experience was fired from her job in an ER after making public comments in favor of hydroxychloroquine as treatment for COVID-19. She said she had seen in used and seen benefits from its use. Didn’t matter. She expressed an opinion that the elites deemed unworthy, so out she goes!
When people can be fired for simply expressing their opinions, opinions shared by millions of others or unique to themselves, then this represents a serious challenge to our freedoms. Activists who demand that opinions with which they disagree be shut down are a danger to our freedoms and our democracy. We don’t win arguments by shutting down the opposition. We win arguments by presenting the better argument. Those who can’t handle different opinions need to find something else to do with their time than take on political or social causes. This notion that the only opinions that may be expressed are those that agree with me are inconsistent with a free people. Employers should know that, and I hope that Township High School District 211 pays dearly for forgetting a foundational principle of American freedom that they ought to be teaching to their students.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.