ACLU-MN files a brief in support of student's rights
St. Paul, Minn, - The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota filed a brief in support of a nursing student's Free Speech rights. The student was dismissed from a state college nursing program based on the content of his personal Facebook page. The dismissal was upheld by the Federal District Court in Minnesota. The case is currently before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
"There may be appropriate reasons to censor an elementary or high school student's speech, but state colleges and universities should not censor adult speech, particularly off-campus speech," stated Charles Samuelson, Executive Director of the ACLU-MN.
The ACLU-MN argues the state disciplined the student nurse in violation of his Free Speech rights. College student speech is entitled to the full protections of the First Amendment, particularly off-campus speech. However, the state disciplined the student nurse because his Facebook posts were deemed offensive and unprofessional under the nursing program's rules of conduct and ethics. The ACLU-MN also argues that a nursing student's speech should not be entitled to less protection than a high school student or a typical college student's speech, just because the nursing student is pursuing a professional degree. While states are entitled to regulate the speech of licensed professionals in the confines of their professional duties, the U.S. Supreme Court has always protected professional's First Amendment rights when the speech does not pertain to their professional duties.
"The state's action is troubling because it opens the door to disciplinary action against any licensed professional for anything they say, regardless of its impact on the individual's ability to effectively practice the profession" stated Timothy Griffin, of Stinson Leonard Street. "Imagine a doctor having his or her medical license stripped because the state takes exception to comments made outside the workplace on a controversial political issue."
Cooperating attorneys in the case are: Timothy Griffin, Barry Landy and Katherine Devlaminck all of Stinson Leonard Street, LLP and Teresa Nelson of the ACLU-MN.