Letters: Defending school employee’s right to free speech on Facebook

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To the Editor:

It hasn’t been a week since the municipal general election and already the war of words and the attack on our staff have begun. I was saddened to read Paul Feely’s City Hall column in today’s Sunday News. Not only did he attack Andrea Alley but he solicited comments from Rich Girard and Debra Gagnon Langton to support his attack.

The piece openly states that Mrs. Alley’s comments were made on her personal Facebook page. Clearly, she did not use district time or resources to share her views.

In a free speech case from 1969, the United States Supreme Court upheld students and teachers First Amendment rights within the school setting. Tinker v. Des Moines Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969)

In that case, Justice Fortas writing for the Court said:

First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. [Emphasis added] It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” [at 506]

If First Amendment rights to freedom of speech exist within the public school setting, is it logical to believe that public school employees lose their rights to free speech outside of their employment? I am concerned that a reporter and two school board members are so unacquainted with the rights of free speech.

This is a bad start to a new term. This is not the environment in which civility and collaboration flourish. It appears that any opinion expressed over the next two years that is not in concert with the views of the mayor and his supporters may lead to a personal attack on the person that shares his or her opinion. I have no problem with a discussion of differing points of view when the discussion is focused on the merits of the view in question. I do object when the discussion becomes a personal attack.

Social media has become the modern method of communicating a single idea with many people, simultaneously. To suggest that any individual’s right to publish his or her views on a personal page during non-work time is somehow restricted or subject to punishment because of that individual’s employer is not consistent with our form of government.

Sarah L. Browning


Sarah BrowningSarah L. Browning attended Manchester public schools. She retired in 2013 from the New Hampshire Department of Education after 12 years as special assistant to the commissioner and administrator for policy and law, and serves as a trustee on the Making Community Connections Charter School as well as a commissioner on the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission.

Editor’s note:  Sarah Browning recently ran in the city’s municipal election for Ward 2 School Committee, losing to opponent Debra Gagnon Langton.

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About Carol Robidoux 5855 Articles
Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!