The recent firing of a high-ranking Maryland state employee who posted and reposted controversial comments and memes on social media-some of which suggested ideological sympathy with a teenager who is accused of having fatally shot two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin last week-has reignited debate over how far free speech protections extend in the workplace and what the consequence should be for breaching protocol.
Arthur “Mac” Love IV had served as deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives-an agency dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion-for more than five-and-a-half years before being fired on Saturday. Hogan administration officials strongly condemned Love’s posts. At a news conference on Monday, Love said that he is considering legal action against the state for what he claimed is unjust termination.
The suspected shooter, Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, has been charged with two counts of first degree homicide and one count of attempted homicide-Rittenhouse is accused of shooting and injuring a third person. The victims were attending a protest against police misconduct that was spurred by the Aug. 23 police shooting of a 29-year-old African-American man who was left paralyzed from the waist down by the incident.
President Donald Trump has suggested that Rittenhouse, who has reportedly expressed support for right-wing groups on social media, may have shot the protestors in self-defense. The incident was caught on video with a cell phone. New videos have emerged that reportedly show Rittenhouse punching a woman in Kenosha on July 1.
So, is Love’s suggested support for Rittenhouse sufficient reason for him having been fired?
“I am not one for firing people for voicing their opinion,” Del. Brian Chisholm (R-Anne Arundel) told MarylandReporter.com in a phone interview.
Chisholm added: “I think you have to be careful about what you say whenever you are in public office but I do not believe that it warranted firing…I think it’s a dangerous situation when we start just firing people for their own personal opinions.”
Sen. Will Smith (D-Montgomery) disagreed, saying Love’s firing was appropriate.
“Everyone has a constitutionally protected right to express their opinions, however, it is incumbent upon responsible officeholders to hold those people accountable when they express opinions that are offensive and are detrimental to public safety and not in the public interest. I think the governor did the appropriate thing in relieving him of his position.”
Smith, who is chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, went on to refute Trump’s suggestion that Rittenhouse may have acted in self-defense.
“I’ve seen the video. It certainly doesn’t look that way…He was far from his home and he was carrying an assault rifle. We’ll let the courts sift through the facts but it certainly doesn’t seem like a situation of self-defense to me.”
Del. Rick Impallaria (R-Baltimore and Harford) said it is unclear whether or not Rittenhouse acted in self-defense.
“Until we know what all the facts are there should aways be a presumption of innocence. He may be guilty. It may have been self-defense. We’ve got to wait until the judge or jury decides that. We shouldn’t just think that everybody is guilty before they have a trial.”
Richard Vatz, a professor of political persuasion at Towson University in Maryland, said Love’s firing should be viewed within the context of him having been a gubernatorial appointee.
“There are two questions regarding Love’s remarks: were they responsible and, since he is part of an Administration, did he clear them with the Administration. Members of an executive’s employ do not have the right to take public political positions that may undercut that executive.”
Vatz added: “His (Love’s) posts, supporting Kyle Rittenhouse and ridiculing the victims of his (Rittenhouse’s) actions, were tasteless and, to the extent that they took a dispositive position on the justifiability of Rittenhouse’s action, were premature, but even if they were or turn out to be correct on legal responsibility, they cannot be accepted by an administration that must speak in one responsible voice.”