Pickering v. Board of Education
In Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563, 568 (1968), the U.S. Supreme Court held in favor of a public school teacher who had been fired by his Board of Education for sending a letter to a local newspaper in connection with a recently proposed tax increase that was critical of the way in which the Board and superintendent had handled past tax increase proposals. The Court rejected the Board's justification that the teacher had acted in a manner "detrimental to the efficient operation and administration of the schools of the district," and the Court rejected the argument that the relevant Illinois statute, Ill. Rev. Stat., c. 122, § 10-22.4 (1963), supported the firing in the "interests of the school."
The Court agreed that government "has interests as an employer in regulating the speech of its employees that differ significantly from those it possesses in connection with regulation of the speech of the citizenry in general." But the Court "unequivocally rejected" the notion that government employees relinquish their right to comment on matters of public concern. Id. Because Pickering had spoken on an issue of public importance and there was no evidence that he had knowingly or recklessly made false statements, the Court held that the school board had infringed on his First Amendment rights by dismissing him from public employment. Id. at 574.