No, government employees cannot be fired for political protest

I recently came across a GBH news article wherein an attorney advised people to avoid political protest because their employer may fire them for such activity.  The First Amendment says otherwise.

Political speech is at the heart of the First Amendment, which protects government employees.  Government employees cannot be fired for political speech unless the reason for their termination was disruption to the government’s operations.  I currently have a case in federal court heading to a jury involving a government employee who was fired for making a remark that has a racially charged history.  I defeated the defendants’ motions to dismiss and for summary judgment on the basis that there is a question of fact as to whether my client was fired because of the content of his speech or disruption to the workplace.  If it is the former, the government violated the First Amendment.

Political protest is fundamental to democracy – violence is not.  If a government employee partook or planned to partake in violence, that employee may be fired for such action.  Violence is not protected speech.  If, however, government employees partake in a protest that turns violent, their employer cannot legally fire them for merely being there, lest protesters of all sorts lose their jobs over the criminality of others.

The First Amendment does not protect private employees. The Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, on the other hand, may provide protection but only if you are threatened, coerced, or intimidated into not participating in political protest. If an employer expressly prohibits its employees from engaging in political protest, that may amount to a violation of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act. If, on the other hand, a private employee is merely fired for engaging in political protest, the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act would not likely provide solace.

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