Teachers’ aide Jane Wood Allen “has been relieved from duty and is no longer an employee of Forsyth County Schools,” the Georgia district announced on October 3. “Racism and discrimination are not tolerated in our school district.”
The district’s announcement omits specifics (“[a]s this is a personnel matter, the district will provide not further comment”), leaving the casual observer to assume that she must have tried to force a Muslim or Jewish student to eat pork, or perhaps to segregate student water fountains or district buses by race.
In fact, her offense was posting comments on her personal Facebook timeline — comments that many, myself included, find repulsive. She called First Lady Michelle Obama a “gorilla” and asserted that Muslims “have no business in the USA.”
As a libertarian, I’m generally indisposed to defend either government education (I favor complete separation of school and state) or government employees (I favor complete separation of everything else and state as well, which would leave nothing for them to do!).
But the government shouldn’t be allowed to punish people for what they say. There’s a word for that. That word is “censorship.”
The content of Allen’s personal, non-work Facebook profile was and is, quite simply, none of the school district’s business. Firing her is essentially fining her, in the amount of all future wages and retirement benefits she would otherwise have earned, for the “crime” of having opinions the district’s officials disagreed with, and for expressing those opinions on her own time and using her own resources.
In arguing this point with some who disagree, I’ve been asked if I would want a racist teaching my kids. Well, no, I wouldn’t … but that doesn’t mean I get to demand that the government screen job applicants to make sure those applicants agree with me 100%, right down the line, on any and every issue and fire those who don’t.
The government shouldn’t get to fire someone because they find out that her or she is gay or trans rather than heterosexual and cis-gendered.
The government shouldn’t get to fire someone because they find out he or she is an Episcopalian rather than a Baptist.
The government shouldn’t get to fire someone because they find out he or she belongs to a political party other than the one in power.
And the government shouldn’t get to fire Jane Wood Allen for calling the First Lady a “gorilla.”
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.