An unsurprising yet still disturbing development occurred yesterday in New Jersey:
The protester who burned pages from the Koran outside a planned mosque near Ground Zero has been fired from NJTransit, sources and authorities said Tuesday.
Derek Fenton‘s 11-year career at the agency came to an abrupt halt Monday after photographs of him ripping pages from the Muslim holy book and setting them ablaze appeared in newspapers.
The government agency which fired Mr. Fenton attempted to defend its action:
“Mr. Fenton’s public actions violated New Jersey Transit’s code of ethics,” an agency statement said.
“NJ Transit concluded that Mr. Fenton violated his trust as a state employee and therefore [he] was dismissed.”
The question which naturally arises from NJ Transit’s decision is whether or not it is permissible for the agency to fire an employee for what appears to be the exercising of his First Amendment right to freedom of expression when he was apparently not on-duty for NJ Transit.
The reason that I characterized the New Jersey government’s decision to fire Denton as unsurprising is that it recalls the similar treatment given to 2008 Presidential Campaign figure Joe The Plumber.
After Joe Wurzelbacher — AKA Joe The Plumber — had the gall to challenge Candidate Obama regarding Obama’s statement of wanting to “spread the wealth around” in what sounded to many like a call for socialistic redistribution of wealth, Joe was set upon by both the liberal media and at least one Ohio government official.
As was the case with Joe The Plumber, Derek Fenton made the mistake of challenging Obama’s and other liberals’ wishes and ideas. And in the Obama Era, apparently, that means that Fenton had to face the same kind of reprisal which Joe The Plumber did before him.
As you might imagine, a number of people felt that Fenton’s loss of his job was out of order:
If Fenton was fired for burning the Koran while off-duty, his First Amendment rights probably were violated, Chris Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union said.
“The Supreme Court has recognized a constitutional right to burn the flag. As reprehensible as it may be, burning the Koran would be protected as well.”
Unfortunately, some liberals and those sympathetic to liberal causes are apparently no longer sure that Fenton’s free speech should be protected:
(Supreme Court Justice Stephen) Breyer told me (George Stephanopoulos of ABC News) on “GMA” that he’s not prepared to conclude that — in the internet age — the First Amendment condones Koran burning.
“Holmes said it doesn’t mean you can shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,” Breyer told me. “Well, what is it? Why? Because people will be trampled to death. And what is the crowded theater today? What is the being trampled to death?”
Last week President Obama told me that Pastor Jones could be cited for public burning – but that was “the extent of the laws that we have available to us.” Rep. John Boehner said on “GMA” that “just because you have a right to do something in America does not mean it is the right thing to do.”
For Breyer, that right is not a foregone conclusion.
“It will be answered over time in a series of cases which force people to think carefully. That’s the virtue of cases,” Breyer told me.
This is Obama’s America in 2010. Keep that in mind when you take to the polls in November.