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No First Amendment Protection for Prison Guard Fired for Klan Activities
Description Appeals court rejected the free speech rights claim of a prison guard fired for involvement in Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist activities. Interest of the state in maintaining prison safety outweighed guard's interest in participating in such activities.
Topic Constitutional Law
Key Words Free Speech, Safety Interests, Public Employee
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts While a sergeant at an Illinois prison, where a majority of the inmates are black or Hispanic, Weicherding sponsored a Ku Klux Klan rally. The prison fired him for conduct unbecoming an officer. Weicherding sued, claiming violation of his First Amendment free speech rights. District court held for defendants; Weicherding appealed.
Decision Affirmed. Besides publicly promoting the Klan rally while at the prison, Weicherding was known to use Aryan Nation signals and phrases, including "weiss macht," German for "white power." First Amendment claims of public employees are subject to a two part test: 1) does the speech or actions address a matter of public concern, or are otherwise protected by the First Amendment, and 2) the court balances the interests of the employee in commenting on public matters and the interests of the state in promoting the effectiveness of its public services. Here, the prison's interests in safety outweigh the sergeant's interest in protected speech.
Citation Weicherding v. Riegal, 160 F.3d 1139 (7th Cir., 1999)

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