A longtime, honored volunteer in the parks system in Washington state has been “fired” for having an “inappropriate” bumper sticker on his private vehicle.
And a lawsuit now has been filed over the fight.
It seems officials in the state system were absolutely intolerant of the volunteer’s pro-Trump sign.
The American Center for Law and Justice said the legal action is to defend the First Amendment rights of Gary Formhals.
He’s a former U.S. Navy Chief who has volunteered for, and been a part-time employee, in the park system for a decade.
Only three years ago, he was given an “Award of Excellence” for his service.
In nominating him, officials commended him “for his service above and beyond the call of duty, his integrity, and his courteous and kind manner with everyone who meets him.”
But then a few weeks ago, he was ordered to remove – or cover – bumper stickers on his personal vehicle because of the park system’s “Public Contact/Communication” policy.
The signs said “Trump 2020” and “2-TRUMP-4.”
The ACLJ explained that while he was in uniform, on duty, he didn’t share his religious beliefs or political perspectives.
“But he never thought he was prohibited from expressing his political opinions on his privately owned truck. In fact, park officials knew for years about Gary’s political bumper stickers,” the ACLJ noted.
When he would not modify his private speech to comply with the bureaucrats’ demands, he “forced to leave the park system.”
The ACLJ said the problem is that the First Amendment doesn’t allow government officials to censor the speech of employees – except in rare circumstances that would impact the administration of their offices.
“Even though park officials knew about Gary’s political bumper stickers for years, they never did anything about them. It wasn’t until a visitor to the park voiced her outrage about Gary’s bumper stickers, which she described as ‘insurrectionalist [sic],’ that the park decided to give Gary an ultimatum: your speech or your job,” the ACLJ said.
The lawsuit is in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington and challenges the state actions.
The actual policy being challenge states: “Public service is the host’s highest priority. Be friendly, honest, courteous, and helpful in all interactions with the public. Be positive about the park, staff, and rules. Harassment, including sexual harassment, is inexcusable for both staff and volunteers. Do not express, display, broadcast, distribute or otherwise communicate to the public any personal opinions, messages or points of view while performing host duties, wearing the host vest, or while occupying the host site. This includes the display of expressive items such as stickers, flags, signs, and clothing.”
But the ACLJ explained, “If a park volunteer cannot convey ‘any personal opinions, messages or points of view while performing host duties,’ as the policy says, then a volunteer cannot engage in even normal chitchat with park visitors. Statements like ‘It’s a beautiful day,’ ‘I love the Seattle Mariners,’ or ‘It’s right for the government to support public parks’ are all forbidden.”
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