Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Tweet by University of Kansas Professor Results in Suspension: First Amendment Ramifications
According to a report in the Kansas City Star, David Guth, a journalism professor at University of Kansas has been placed on "administrative leave" for his tweet about after last week's shooting leaving 13 dead at the DC Navy Yard.
"The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.”
While there is an implication that some in the KU Administration might believe this constitutes advocacy of violence, it's doubtful that the tweet would rise to this level. It certainly does not rise to the level of a threat: Compare the Ninth Circuit in United States v. Bagdasarian and a finding of true threats in a blog post by the Second Circuit in United States v. Turner.
There is also the question of the lack of due process accorded to Professor Guth, as some have noted.
But perhaps most relevant is the Ninth Circuit's recent opinion in Demers v. Austin. Certainly Guth's tweet is a matter of public concern and he was speaking as a private citizen rather than as a public employee. On this view, his speech should be protected under the First Amendment. Moreover, Guth's tweet does not present the kind of close case presented in Demers and there should be little credit to claims of qualified immunity.
Guth's "personal blog" (as the blog itself proclaims) deserves similar First Amendment protection. (The blog entry for September 16, 2013 entitled "Where Do You Stand?" discusses the Navy Yard incident).
Like the so-called "political rant" last week by another academic, this would make a terrific in class exercise for those teaching First Amendment.