Archive for Monday, March 19, 2007

Bumper sticker could cost employee her job

March 19, 2007


— A leading Republican lawmaker wanted a state employee fired for putting an anti-war bumper sticker with a strong swear word on her car, which she parks in the Statehouse garage.

House Majority Leader Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, dispatched the director of the Kansas Legislative Research Department two weeks ago to tell Ashley Holm her job was in jeopardy unless she removed the sticker from her car.

The two-word sticker uses the four-letter "f" word followed by the word "war."

Holm, the research department's legislative fellow, at first agreed to remove the sticker but then changed her mind.

Now, Merrick said others will have to decide Holm's future, but he remains upset by the sticker.

Merrick, a former Marine, said he was mostly upset by the offensive word, especially because Holm parks her car in a high-traffic spot in the parking garage.

"I'm all for people expressing themselves, free speech and all that," he said, "but I don't appreciate offensive language being on a bumper sticker in a public garage that's owned by the people of the state."

Two weeks ago, Merrick sent Alan Conroy, director of the research department, to tell Holm to remove the sticker.

She at first agreed but then changed her mind, prompting Conroy to meet with her again and tell Holm that her job was in jeopardy.

She was reminded of a work agreement prohibiting staff members from joining in partisan political activity.

But Holm refused to remove the sticker and it was still on her car at the end of work on Friday.

At this point, Merrick said, "people other than me" will have to decide Holm's employment future."

Conroy said he couldn't discuss the situation because it was a personnel matter. But he said he wasn't aware of any other time when a state lawmaker wanted a research department employee fired in reaction to a bumper sticker.

Other legislative leaders questioned whether firing Holm was appropriate.

"I don't know what I'd do about that," said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence.

And Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said dismissing Holm would be unwise, although he found the use of profanity on any sticker of questionable taste.

"The worst speech imaginable is protected," Hensley said. "We shouldn't get into the business of censuring what people put on their automobiles."


Ragingbear 11 years ago

We need some sort of a law to address this issue. Perhaps even a constitutional amendment that guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression....

NAW!! That's silly.

SettingTheRecordStraight 11 years ago

"And Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley.... found the use of profanity on any sticker of questionable taste."

I couldn't agree more.

BigDog 11 years ago

Ragingbear - I would normally agree with you but she holds a job that is expected to be non-partisan and not express political opinions. When you are hired into these positions it is made very clear verbally and in writing you are not to participate in political activities. She accepted that condition when she took this job.

"She was reminded of a work agreement prohibiting staff members from joining in partisan political activity."

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years ago

"When you are hired into these positions it is made very clear verbally and in writing you are not to participate in political activities."

That doesn't mean that you can't express any opinion about any thing. Her position with the state is in no way connected with the prosecution of any war, and denying her her right to express her opinion about it is an abuse of power by Ray Merrick, who should be censured for doing so. (BTW, whoever wrote this article should learn the difference between "censure" and "censor.")

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years ago

"I remember when liberals used to riot for peace."

No, that was the police rioting, not the "liberals."

opinion 11 years ago

"Setting the recordstraight is upset by the F-word, but apparently not by the deaths of 3,200 hundred Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis in a war of choice started under false pretenses."

Can't someone be offended by both?

Bubarubu 11 years ago

The justification for firing this woman may ultimately be the "political" nature of her bumper sticker, but the original complaint had nothing to do with its political content. The original complaint from Rep. Merrick was profanity. That's right, he sent someone to threaten this woman's job because she dared use profanity.

Also, unless there's something more to the description of this bumper sticker, I don't see how it necessarily applies to the war in Iraq. It expresses the opinion that war is a bad thing, which is only expressly political if one chooses to read her sticker that way. She's not engaging in political activity until someone else chooses to interpret it that way, and now her job is being threatened for that someone else's interpretation. Good job, KS GOP!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years ago

"My favorite riot from the "Party of Peace" was the anti war riots in Detroit in 1968."

Your standards of historical accuracy are truly of the lowest level.

Jamesaust 11 years ago

While tasteless, there is NOTHING partisan about this bumper sticker. That State is courting a lawsuit here - one that they (and the taxpayer!) will lose.

Does anyone believe that the only real objection here is the CONTENT of the speech? Somehow I doubt Busybody Merrick would be worked up over "F--- Osama" or "F--- Abortionists".

Gabe Hoffman 11 years ago

How did this turn political? And who said she was liberal?

I would have to agree with bubarubu. It would seem she is simply making a statement. Then again, I'm sure you could draw some conclusion to political affiliation from any statement if you try hard enough.

However, I would say that it is in poor judgement, beacuse you never know who is gonna see that.

Best way to fix the problem, give her a parking spot in a low traffic area. Done.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years ago

"Or are you cherry picking your deaths."

I think deaths resulting from US Govt. policy and actions deserve cherry picking, don't you?

CountryBumpkin 11 years ago

The issue here is not free speech or the war. The issue is whether the state has the authority to regulate the display of profanity by employees on state owned property. Placing the bumper sticker on a vehicle parked in the state-owned parking garage is no more an acceptable exercise of "free speech" than it would be for this employee to display the sticker in her workspace?

Should she be fired? No. Should her parking permit be revoked if she refuses to remove the offensive bumper sticker? Absolutely!

mick 11 years ago

There is a difference between politics and "partisan" politics. How can you prove that being anti war is partisan. There are more than a few anti war Republicans.

CountryBumpkin 11 years ago

Who said anything about making her action a "criminal offense?" You might want to do a little more legal research on the issue in the employer-employee context, scenebooster.

thomgreen 11 years ago

How is being against war a partisan issue? Shouldn't everyone be against war?

Jamesaust 11 years ago

"The issue is whether the state has the authority to regulate the display of profanity by employees on state owned property."

'On state owned property' is no more relevant here than on "state owned" roads.

That the person in question is a state employee highlights the precise infringement - the State is holding employment over her head based solely on her outside-of-employment speech.

Believe it or not, this is hardly the first instance for such grandstanding. The U.S. Supreme Court has already decided this issue [Pickering v. Board of Ed. - 1968] by finding that "the fact of employment is only tangentially and insubstantially involved in the subject matter of the public communication made by [the employee], we conclude that it is necessary to regard the [employee] as the member of the general public [they seek] to be."

The speech is not part of the person's employment, does not occur in relation to her employment, does not disrupt or interfere in any way with her employment, and cannot be rationally assumed to make the State a proxy speaker for the employee. As such, it is 100% protected by the First Amendment. Period.

I propose a "civics literacy" test as a prerequisite to holding public office!

CountryBumpkin 11 years ago

The legal reasoning of your clarification is as faulty as your initial post (as it relates to the issue at hand).

She can drive the car with the profane bumper sticker to work if she wants -- she just can't park it in the state-owned (taxpayer-owned) parking garage.

mom_of_three 11 years ago

She's a state employee. Hmm, so are the some of the Phelps' clan.
She works for the legislature. They're just attorneys for the state? Someone wants to fire her because her bumper sticker is offensive to someone. And the Phelps' activities are considered offensive to ....everyone.
Maybe if the Phelps' resorted to bumper stickers where they parked, then someone in the statehouse would pay attention to where they work. (and I don't know where that is...just saying...)

Jamesaust 11 years ago

"she just can't park it in the state-owned (taxpayer-owned) parking garage."


The First Amendment doesn't merely protect "free speech" but explicitly (no pun intended) protects it against curtailment BY GOVERNMENT - indeed, its protects speech ONLY from government restriction. As a core civil right, any restriction on her speech will have to withstand the highest level of scruitiny. Basically, the State will have to show that it MUST restrict her speech. Somehow, I suspect even the slowest kid in the class can grasp that the business of government will go on quite easily regardless of what the bumper stickers in the garage say.

The State is perfectly free to restrict her speech in the office if it is non-germane and/or disruptive, or when she is speaking on behalf of her employer, the State. None of this applies to the facts.

You may find the reasoning faulty but the courts do not so find. And that's all that matters here.

purplesage 11 years ago

Research fellow connotes some degree of respectability and position. The bumper sticker is clearly in poor taste. I wonder about the intelligence of individuals who cannot express their sentiments without resorting to gutter language. Either she or the bumper sticker - and probably both- need to go.

Porter 11 years ago

Although I agree with you Jamesaust, I'm concerned about workplace behavior considerations that do actually put a limit on free speech (ex. sexual harassment). If her action creates a "hostile work environment" (perceived or otherwise), couldn't this be cause for termination? You touched on it by mentioning "The State is perfectly free to restrict her speech in the office ...". Is the parking garage not considered part of the office (when considering employment law)?

Jamesaust 11 years ago

"Is the parking garage not considered part of the office (when considering employment law)?"

Not if its a public garage. Now ... if only state employees were allowed to park there, the State might have a chance - but it will still need to prove that such a sticker actually does disrupt the work environment (something that apparently no one is claiming), or that (somehow) the public will know the sticker is there and (someone) might reasonably believe that the speech is the State's by proxy (fairly laughable).

Hence, the distinction between a clerk at the DMV with a badge that says "Jesus is Lord" versus such a message on an auto bumper sticker outside. Clearly, a government workplace that serves all is not an appropriate place for such sentiment. But if you're extending that restriction to the parking garage, there's going to be a lot(!) of scraping going on.

By contrast, sexual harrassment DOES take place AT work and the State can prove that it disrupts the work environment.

"in poor taste" - I agree. But that's not the issue. How is "poor taste" an infringing "partisan activity"? Clearly, the content of the speech and not its manner is what is being objected to - even if the profanity is used as a distracting point.

CountryBumpkin 11 years ago

Soooo. The same bumper sticker on a teacher's car in the parking lot of an elementary school, and the school adminstration can only tell the complaining parents, "free speech?"

deec 11 years ago

Murtha may be a "whiny marine" according to a poster here, but at least he served. He didn't get daddy to get him a cushy stateside posting, for which he couldn't even bother to show up.

Jamesaust 11 years ago

Some have asked so I should be clear: I do not agree with the Supreme Court that public profanity should be protected fully under the First Amendment. Such speech does not fulfill the purpose of the Amendment and limits as much as it furthers public discourse. It should be no more worthy of protection that speech that implies/incites violence (e.g., Kill All Zorastrians! etc.).

That said, the Supreme Court says otherwise. And while I'll vote to change this policy if placed on the S.C., that seems unlikely (although, Harriet Miers was nominated so maybe the odds aren't all that long - I just need to become a political ...errr...crony, and start writing suck up letters describing my patron as 'the most brilliant man ever' and such).

Jamesaust 11 years ago

"...and the school adminstration can only tell the complaining parents, "free speech?"

Probably. But the balancing of interests that occurs is a it different when addressing those who work with minors. The school administration would need to show that the speech undermines the teacher's ability to teach.

Weighing in the district's favor is the youth and impressionability of the elementary school students. Weighing in the teacher's favor is the out-of-classroom locus of the speech and the 'public matter' content.

Of course, employees at a state office building are not children.

Gabe Hoffman 11 years ago

On one hand, I think she should be able to do what she chooses with her car. On the other hand, I can see them not wanting her to beacuse it's offensive. Not the war part, but the other.

I know a lot of companies expect their workers to represent their company at all times, while at work, or at the grocery store. I think as a state employee one should chose how they act carefully, beacuse, in the end, it represents us all. And that goes from a groundskeeper to the legislative side.

deec 11 years ago

Well, no. Just because someone gets a state paycheck does not make them a permanent representative of the state. Ditto private companies. Employers, public or private, do not own their workers, and have no business regulating their behavior off duty, educators, judges, and politicians excepted. Eductors have moral turpitude restrictions, and judges are also held to similar standards. Even teachers are not restricted from expressing political opinions.

Gabe Hoffman 11 years ago

Tell that to the science teacher who was forced to resign a couple of years ago for not agreeing that God exist.

Or other companies that will fire workers who smoke off duty included. I do believe our current first respponders are prohibited from smoking as well.

Especially since Kansas is a right to work state, you can get fired for anything. If you get arrested for something not even related to your job, and your employer doesn't agree with your actions, they can fire you.

So yes, you can lose your job beacuse of outside activities. I'd guess 80% of jobs, you are expected to reflect your company well, while working or not, and if not, could be considered a reason for termination.

Linda Endicott 11 years ago

I still don't understand how this can possibly be viewed as "partisan politics". There are both Democrats and Republicans who are against the war. So how can it be partisan?

Not to mention that the bumper sticker apparently doesn't even specify any particular again, how can that be "partisan politics"?

Tychoman 11 years ago

It's a bumper sticker. Let it go.

maxflash 11 years ago

What if the sticker said "war is hell?"

And I'd love it if someone went through the entire parking garage searching for stickers that could be construed as "partisan."

Something tells me the tow truck service would be doing brisk business.

Y'all are absurd.

maxflash 11 years ago

So let me get the full implications of this. Anyone who is in any way related to the state of Kansas cannot have anything associated with them that could be construed by some knucklehead as "partisan."

I hope none of those people have t-shirts, bumperstickers, yard signs, or anything else saying "support the troops," because that clearly could be construed as partisan.

You give Kansas (my home state) a bad name. Stop.

BigDog 11 years ago

So let me get the full implications of this. Anyone who is in any way related to the state of Kansas cannot have anything associated with them that could be construed by some knucklehead as "partisan."

The non-partisan piece has to do with her particular job , not all state jobs.

Porter 11 years ago

I agree with almost all of Jamesaust's points, except:

"Of course, employees at a state office building are not children."

After reading this article, I'm not sure that statement is accurate. Rep. Merrick's actions go along ways towards proving my point.

BigDog 11 years ago

BigDog - that's missing the point. She is identified as neither conservative nor liberal, so how can an anti-war sticker be partisan in the abscence of such labels?

There are anti-war republicans.

scenebooster - I was responding to maxflash comment - not arguing in favor of any point of view merely explaining that the fact that the "partisan" piece is not an issue for most state employees.

james bush 11 years ago

Put people who use the word in such a stupid way on a bumper strip in stocks on the town square!

james bush 11 years ago

This topic is all the talk on WIBW talk radio today........580am.

james bush 11 years ago

Probably a product of the KU Women's Studies curriculum!.......this perpetrator violating the concept of free speech!

james bush 11 years ago

I wonder what the little kids in her neighborhood ask their parents about this woman's bumper sticker(s)!

imastinker 11 years ago

maybe she could just be told to park somewhere else.

monkeyspunk 11 years ago

Ummm, it said "F*** War" right?

Last I heard war was bad, regardless of what your political alignment is.

It didn't say "F the War" or "F Bush's War" it just said "F*** War".

More of a correct social statement than an expression of ideology as far as I am concerned.

Don't you dare take this woman's job!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years ago

"I got a bumper sticker that says "Fuc# Liberals"."

I've never seen a single post of yours that said anything more than a slight paraphrase of that. Why wouldn't you put it on a bumpersticker?

james bush 11 years ago

I wonder: Did this dumb woman pass up a slogan such as , Support world peace, or, Can't we all just get along, or, Allah is great, or, Jane Fonda for president, or ................whatever, just to prove women can say f--k and be one of the guys!

bevy 11 years ago

I don't give two hoots whether she's a republican, an democrat, a liberal, or a conservative. Or if her hair is purple! She's an AMERICAN, and as such her FREE SPEECH is protected. Even if it is distasteful to some.

What I find more disturbing is that Rep. Merrick, an elected official - APPARENTLY HAS NEVER READ THE BILL OF RIGHTS!!

Yeesh. Who voted for this guy?

To quote a favorite of mine: "I may disagree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it." --Voltaire

imastinker 11 years ago

My problem isn't her message - it's having that work on display at the capital where kids can see it. My solution is to revoke parking priveliges until she removes it.

Anyone have a problem with that?

Tychoman 11 years ago

Dambudzo here's a bumper sticker: "Annoy a conservative-think for yourself."

Why does EVERYTHING have to be partisan to you?

james bush 11 years ago

Liberal axiom: If It Feels Good, Do It.

Bubarubu 11 years ago

"My problem isn't her message - it's having that work on display at the capital where kids can see it. My solution is to revoke parking priveliges until she removes it.

Anyone have a problem with that?" apparently a bunch of other people here. That is makes your kids ask a question, or in some way makes you uncomfortable is not a reason to restrict my freedom of expression. This bumper sticker does not interfere with this woman's job, or anyone else's for that matter. If a parent cannot figure out how to explain a four-letter word to their kids without banning its use anywhere there kids might be exposed to it, then it speaks more to their incapacity as a parent than it does to the offensiveness of my speech.

Luna 11 years ago

for the can get your very own F WAR sticker at The Third Planet at 9th and Mass...we are out of stock right now, but we are re-ordering tomorrow. And we may very well have sold the one in question. Ms Holm, if you are out there reading this you are our hero...send us a pic of your car with it's sticker, preferably on state property, and we will post in on our MySpace and on the sticker display in the store. The sentiment expressed is hardly partisan and in fact the issue is really about the word F, which incidentally used to be a polite euphemism that the puritan's used during the witch there...

Blessed Be and Namaste, Luna

Linda Endicott 11 years ago

I don't know that smoking causes any more waste of time than employees using company computers to get online and post on message boards and check personal e-mail, Marion.

And in my experience at work, the smokers are the ones who go to the doctor less frequently. They also seem to call in sick less frequently.

james bush 11 years ago

$, $ , $.... sell some more bumper stickers for the little shop of horrors..........follow the money! Yeh, Holms, send a picture!

Linda Endicott 11 years ago

If she'd had a bumper sticker that said, "Muck Fizzou", would it have received the same response?

Tychoman 11 years ago

If they follow reason, crazkys, then yes. It should be the same.

However, they're not following reason, so no.

janeyb 11 years ago

If a child can read, he or she probably knows the "F" word. It is not exactly America's best kept secret. But if a child can read and doesn't know the word--it's probably time to have it explained to him or her. If children are going to be hanging around the Statehouse parking garage reading bumper stickers, they should probably have some sex education. Have they banned pediphiles from the Statehouse grounds?

Since Mr. Merrick is a former marine and a Republican, I have to think the anti-war sentiment does have something to do with his objection. He probably wouldn't have minded "F Clinton" or "F a Woman's Right to Choose".

Bravo to Ms. Holm.

werekoala 11 years ago

Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971)

Google it, kids.

I have a feeling that a quick scan of this case would save these uptight lawmakers a ton of time, energy, and eventual embarassment. So, par for the course for the Ledge, I'm sure these guys will do everything in their power to avoid exposing their delicate brains to this new and dangerous knowledge.

And the Usual Suspects on this forum will do everything but address the issue at hand.



SeaFox 11 years ago

@BigDog "Ragingbear - I would normally agree with you but she holds a job that is expected to be non-partisan and not express political opinions."

Last time I checked the Republicans don't have a monopoly on being Warmongers. The bumper sticker says "F War", not "F the Iraqi War" or "F*** the Republican's War".

Expressing support for peace in general is not a partisan position.

Wilbur_Nether 11 years ago

If we put away the red herrings ("she must be a liberal!" "this war is unjust!") for the time being, we could probably spend some good time talking about the real issues. Specifically, within her role as a researcher for the legislature, is remaining politically neutral a reasonable expectation of her job? Given that she is expected to provide full and accurate data, without undue influence of her own opinions, to legislators on both sides of the aisle, what should be the limits of her external political activity? Should she be allowed, for example, to actively campaign for a ballot issue or a candidate? Should she be allowed to campaign for a more general issue, not on a ballot, and without reference to a specific candidate/party? Should she be allowed to donate to a PAC, a candidate, or a party? If so, in what ways is the perception of her ability to provide a service without prejudice to her employer--the legislature--affected? Does she lose credibility with one side of the aisle or the other? Should she be allowed to openly advocate for policy decisions outside work when her work requires her to provide information and data to the loyal opposition?

If we were intellectually honest here, we would admit that within the context of the times a reasonable person would infer a contemporary political message into the bumper sticker. If the answer to the question is that the legislature can reasonably expect her to maintain the appearance of political neutrality, the bumper sticker violates that a reasonable person. If free speech is paramount, forcing her to park in a less accessible spot or another State-appointed lot away from legislators and tourists smacks of retaliation...another no-no. (Perhaps she would agree to some form of non-permanent covering whenever she is in the garage. A bumper-sticker-sized Post-It(r) Note, if you will, that she can place over the offending sticker while parked at work and remove while not at work.)

Incidentally, I agree that the bumper sticker is vulgar and tasteless. My observation has been that people who feel the need to use profanity with regularity lack any complex level of communication skills.

janeyb 11 years ago


Your "cover the bumper sticker" solution made me think of Ashcroft running around Washington DC draping nude statues. Not a good idea. Where would the cut-off point be? Each of us has his or her own comfort level with what is labeled profanity or pornography--or our own idea of what actually is profanity or porn for that matter. Maybe sensitive, religious Republican legislators just need to toughen up a bit as far as the "F War" is concerned, and I'll fight back negative feeling about those Jesus Fish stuck all over cars.

I did enjoy Anthony Hensley's comments. I don't know if he uses profanity, but I have a temp job that brings me in contact with state workers, and they think he is rude, arrogant, and condescending.

james bush 11 years ago

Time to make a new bunch of stickers and see them at the little shop of horrors.............a long way from the age of aquarius to F this and F that and F*** you.................just a word? not!!! It's a decline in civility to baseness!

werekoala 11 years ago


The big difference there is that a private employer can fire you for any reason they wish, especially in an at-will employment state.

The government is not so lucky - you can't get fired from a government job because a political appointee higher up the totem pole takes a disliking to you -- it has to be for cause, or part of some larger reduction in force.

Selective termination is generally okay in the private sector, but a big no-no in the public sector.

But practically speaking, you can make almost anyone's life hell if you really want to and are higher enough on the pecking order, it's practically impossible to prove, and they'll usually just quit on you. The fact that this is not what's happened smacks to me of political grandstanding. Otherwise, there'd be no need for a combat veteran to go running to the press because a twenty-something girl hurt his feelings.

werekoala 11 years ago

"Liberal axiom: If It Feels Good, Do It."


Wrong, wrong, wrong. The axiom that most of my generation goes by is this:

"If it's not harming anyone else, I won't stop you from doing it."

In no way does this encourage any behavior, socially conservative or socially liberal -- it simply implies that I won't object to your conduyct, whatever it may be, until you cross the line of causing harm to someone else.

As an aside, your tone sounds like you would object to the supposed axiom you cited so virulently I can only conclude that your personal philosophy is diametrically opposed, something along the lines of:

"I'd do everything in my power to prevent you from doing anything that I personally don't like."

I wonder -- do you really think that's a superior attitude? Do you think it's consistent with the spirit of freedom and personal liberty unhampered by undue government intrusion that has made our nation a beacon of freedom to the world at large?

Because that really, really sounds like something a person in favor of a police state would say. "Conservative", indeed. Goldwater would slap you silly if he heard you talk that way, boy.

sourpuss 11 years ago

I think it is really funny how so many people can get worked up about two words on a piece of sticky plastic.

For the love of all that is good, just ignore stuff like this. What does it matter? You have the right to free speech, you don't have the right -not- to be offended. If you find yourself being offended often, perhaps you should take a deep breath and go watch a bug climb over a rock, and then go get some ice cream.

I think if we all just ignored each other a -little- more, we might all get along more effectively.

Linda Endicott 11 years ago

True enough...tell me what kid hasn't seen this word written on the sidewalk or a building at some point. Lighten up. Just seeing the word won't make you go blind.

Luna 11 years ago

"WUCK FAR" omg!!! that is great!!!! those are next in line to sell...

Blessed Be and Namaste, Luna

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