Thursday, May 12, 2016

Rural Mo. official's anti-gay remarks protected under First Amendment, says city attorney

Saint Robert, Mo. resident Daniel Kallman 
will perform in the June show
A rural alderman who used his private social media account to publicly bash a local drag queen event is protected under the First Amendment, said the city attorney of Saint Robert, Mo., reports Darrell Maurina, publisher of the Pulaski County Daily News. In referring to a local drag show event scheduled for June, Alderman Allan Johannsen wrote: "Why don't you guys act right and find a nice woman instead of a person of the same sex. ... I think queers need to stop trying to recruit more perverts this sick mental illness is not any better than child molesters. The desire of someone wanting someone of the same sex and wanting to have sex with a child is a sick perversion. These people need some serious mental health treatment."

The "city council adopted a social media policy several years ago which limits use of social media not only by city employees and volunteers but also by city elected officials," Maurina writes. "However, City Attorney Tyce Smith said the policy was not applicable to Johannsen’s comments and that 'personal opinion is one of the most highly protected rights of the United States.' In addition, Smith said Johannsen 'is an elected official who privately retains First Amendment rights' and that 'his public status is immune from punitive action for privately expressed opinions.'”

Smith wrote in a letter to George Lauritson, mayor of the town in south-central Missouri, neat Fort Leonard Wood: "The facts as I understand them are that Mr. Johannsen did not access social media with city provided resources. Mr. Johannsen provided a personal opinion outside of his role as a member of the St. Robert Board of Aldermen. The U.S. Supreme Court in Garcetti v Ceballos … outlines the First Amendment precedent allowing a public official, whether elected or otherwise, to express his private opinion outside of his official position. In this case, Mr. Johannsen clearly was stating a personal opinion. As such, that personal opinion is one of the most highly protected rights of the United States.”

Some news organizations have accused Maurina of using the newspaper to try to get the show cancelled, Danny Wicentowski reports for Riverfront Times in St. Louis. Maurina denies those allegations, but said he would like to see changes, writing in a Facebook post: "I regularly defend things I don't like. That's what free speech means. Nobody can stop this event, but it can be put in a location where it isn't near a children's athletic facility. It doesn't have to have the doors open at 6 p.m. with the show beginning at 8 p.m."

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