Monday, April 25, 2016

Are Anti-Muslim Comments Grounds to Force an Employee to Resign?

Recently a New Jersey school board member was made to resign after she posted some anti-Muslim comments on her Facebook page. Gladys Gryskiewicz, who became a member of the school board only months ago, found herself in hot water after posting a few anti-Muslim comments on Facebook. She posted comments that told Muslims to "go back to your own country," along with other generally negative comments. When interviewed about the issue, Gryskiewicz claimed that the comments were in response to a video she saw about a Muslim woman disrespecting the national anthem, saying that "I don't care who it is. If you disrespect America, it upsets me." All posts were on her personal Facebook page. She was met with large backlash for her posts; Humza Yousuf, a student at Elmwood Park Memorial High School, a school in Gryskiewicz's district, saw the posts and signed a petition against her which over 600 others have signed. Backlash against Gryskiewicz went further when the New Jersey chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations as well as her boss, principal David Warner demanded she resign from her position on the school board.

As much as I don't like the nature of Gryskiewicz's comments on Facebook and believe she shouldn't have posted them, I do have to side with her when it comes to her job position. I think this case could be looked at from both establishment and free speech angles. From the establishment side, she did post the comments on her own personal Facebook page, thus separating her as an individual from her as a school board member. As a school board official she may be a government employee during the day but when she gets home after work she can freely act as an independant individual, this includes her Facebook page. Her comments were posted to her personal account and were in no way linked to her school board position, because they are unaffiliated with her position, there is no issue with establishment. As much as we all may disagree and dislike her comments, they are protected free speech. Forcing Gryskiewicz to resign from her position because of the comments she made in her private time is a violation of her free speech rights. As much as we might dislike it, as long as they are not threatening, anti-Muslim comments are protected speech. Gryskiewicz does have the right to profess her feelings about Muslims in her own time, which is exactly what she did. While her boss might suggest that she remove the posts for the sake of reputation, he cannot force her to resign for them. The case made by the New Jersey chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations and principal David Warner is that the posts were offensive. There is no right not to be offended, and forcing someone to resign over offensive private speech creates a very slippery slope. An Atheist posting that they do not believe in a god could be offensive to some while a Christian posting a prayer could be taken as offensive to others. Any religious, political, or social opinion could be taken as offensive by somebody, so using that as a basis to force Gryskiewicz to step down from her position opens the door for many other employees to be forced to resign as well. We have to protect free speech and be consistent, if we make an exception for Gryskiewicz, what stops more rash exceptions from being made?

What do you think? Are Gryskiewicz's comments strong enough that she can be forced to resign?


9 comments:

Rebecca J said...

I do not think that this teacher should have been forced to resign. I agree that there is no establishment issue in this cause since she is posting from her own personal Facebook page and not one connected with her position as a school teacher. Additionally, Gryskiewicz comments are protected by free speech. This made me think about Caroline's blog post from last week that involved anti-Islamic speech on a billboard. While these forms of speech may be distasteful, they are forms of private speech and are therefore protected by the first amendment right to free speech. On her Facebook page, Gryskiewicz is speaking as a private individual, not as a school teacher, so she should not be forced to resign. This case would be very different if Gryskiewicz were making these comments in a context that could be perceived as public speech endorsed by the school, but I do not think any reasonable observer can claim a private Facebook page of a teacher to be endorsed by the school.

Caroline Vauzelle said...

I have very similar feelings about this case. I absolutely despise what this woman is saying, but this is indeed protected free speech. A lot of American people share controversial and even insulting content on social networks, and an extremely wide majority of them do not risk to lose their jobs because of that, for free speech is a constitutional right. I appreciate the fact that you quoted the double-standard about Atheists and hatred speech about Christians to show another perspective on the problem. If I had to find a potential counter-argument to your article, I would say that the wave of protestations in the woman's community is something to be taken in account in a democratic system, but I really do not think that this argument would have any serious weight in Court.

Natalie K. said...

I think this case is analogous to the one I wrote about a couple weeks ago in which Township Supervisor Rick Stathakis posted a short prayer and two Bible verses, to serve as words of comfort to those affected by the attacks in Brussels, Belgium, to his personal Facebook page. I argued that this action was not an unconstitutional establishment of religion because the text was not posted to a government official, township, or state social media page. The content that can be viewed on Rick's personal page is representative of an everyday citizen's thoughts and feelings. His job as a township supervisor does not take away his freedom of speech. One may argue that because Rick's post contained a heartfelt (but also religious) message, it was okay, but since Gryskiewwicz post was deemed offensive or insulting to a particular religion, it is not. I would argue that the content is irrelevant, as long as it is not threatening. In both cases, the freedom of speech clause protects both people, and therefore, Gryskiewwicz should have not been forced to resign from her job.

Thomas M. said...

I would have to disagree with Sara that the statements that Ms. Gryskiewicz made were not enough to be considered a fireable offense. From what I can tell from the context provided, Ms. Gryskiewicz was not directing her statements toward the muslim woman she saw in the video disrespecting the American flag, but toward muslims in general. By becoming a member of the school board, Ms. Gryskiewicz gives up some private rights. I would agree that she is allowed to make those statements in private, but I do not think that Facebook qualifies as private. Private, to me, would be a private discussion with a small number of individuals. Even though Facebook has privacy settings, it is still a public forum where a wide audience can view her statements, such as muslim students.

Alex Puleo said...

I would agree with Sara. These comments were not only posted on her personal Facebook page, they were also not considerably offensive. Ms. Gryskiewicz is entitled to her own opinion as an individual citizen of this country. While the argument may be made that as a teacher, Gryskiewicz does give up some of her rights to free speech, I believe that as long as she does not present these opinions within the classroom, she is entitled to her opinion, and should not be fired for posting these opinions on her personal Facebook page. However, if she were to present these ideas within the classroom, I do believe that would call for grounds to fire her.

Sedona Boyatzis said...

I agree with the entirety of these sentiments. Attempting to be consistent with my views, because I felt that Rick Stathakis had the right to free speech to post prayers on his personal Facebook page, I believe that Ms. Gryskiewicz also had the right to free speech, regardless to what that speech entailed. As much as I find her comment to be terribly offensive and discriminatory, her position on the school board should have no relation to how her Facebook posts are perceived by those who view them.

Rosalie said...

I think that hate speech is grounds for firing someone. If there were someone else at the workplace that happened to be Muslim, it may make that person feel physically unsafe. Furthermore, the company has every right to fire this employee if they do not wish for that person to promote an image of hate or disrespect for their company. I think that regulating hate speech is different from regulating free speech, because free speech is about adding to a conversation while hate speech is about reducing people to less than others, dehumanizing them rather than adding to a conversation.

Matthew L. said...

Although I understand where you are coming from with the issue of free speech, I believe that this citizen’s role as a teacher makes these statements hold more weight. The speech that the teacher is using online displays clear sentiment of hostility towards a singular religion. Expanding upon this, there is clear reason for concerned citizens, as well as the administration, to be worried that these views would enter the classroom and impact students, whether it be by the teacher using her role to influence the students’ religion, or the teacher providing a hindrance to a child’s freedom of religion.

Matthew L. said...
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