ACLU: East Greenwich social media policy violates First Amendment rights

EAST GREENWICH – The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island has asked the East Greenwich Town Council to review its new employee social media policy, saying it raises concerns regarding employees’ First Amendment rights, according to an ACLU press release.

One of the problems with the policy, says the ACLU, is it combines an employee’s speech as an employee with their speech as a private citizen. Government employees retain the right to speak out as private citizens on matters of public concern, the letter states.

“The policy’s restrictions are also extremely vague and open-ended,” a letter from the ACLU reads. “Among the types of speech that employees, even in their personal capacity, cannot post are comments that ‘ridicule,’ ‘disparage,’ or ‘otherwise bias [sic] against … any protected class of individuals.’ A person privately retweeting, or responding to, some of President Trump’s less-tolerant comments over this past year could very well find themselves in violation of this policy.”

The policy also bans employees’ private speech, which involves themselves or other town personnel “reflecting behavior that would reasonably be considered reckless,” the ACLU letter says.

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The union said it is a disservice to the town and its employees to institute a policy that seeks to dissuade employees from speaking out against things such as misconduct or improprieties, especially “in light of all that has gone on in the town during the past year.”

R.I. Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl found the town engaged in violations of the open meetings law this past year when it appointed its town manager.

The ACLU letter can be found here.

A copy of the town’s policy can be found here.

Susan Shalhoub is a PBN contributor.