On Keith Olbermann’s Countdownfor 9/15, Keith named the New Jersey Transit System the worst “person” of the night for firing Derek Fenton, one of its employees. Fenton publicly ripped pages out of the Koran and burned them at a protest of the proposed Islamic Community Center near Ground Zero. While Keith didn’t approve of Fenton’s destructive act, he noted that NJ Transit is the government and therefore firing Fenton for an act of free speech violates freedom of speech in general (and maybe even separation of church and state). A private company, of course, can have a Business Code of Conduct where they could fire an individual based on their policies, but the government is questionable in this termination.
I would have to agree. First of all, the protests against the Islamic Community Center are really pointless. On moral grounds, we should be smart enough to separate extremists from moderates when it comes to this religion. Also, apparently after listening to a previous show of Countdown, there were two dedicated spaces for Islam inside the World Trade Center before it was attacked and according to this unique article at AOL News, the architect was influenced by Islamic design. In other words, the World Trade Center devastation affected all Americans and crosses religious and nonreligious borders. If Fenton wants to say that Islam is responsible then as an Atheist I could make the broader argument that belief in a supreme deity is responsible and therefore my request would be that all faith-related centers of worship be kept away from Ground Zero.
If we want to protest all religion in general and spaces dedicated to it, then maybe I’m for it, but singling out Islam in this case concerns me because it borders on Holy War or quite frankly, racism. And this is coming from a cartoonist who loves to make fun of Islam and on occasion has been accused of racism (I think I offended the Irish though), but there is a difference between vocal criticism and trying to ban one faith center over another (I wonder how many churches are near Ground Zero? Any?). The protest implies that all Islamic adherents are responsible for 9/11 and that just isn’t true.
With that said, I don’t like the idea of the government being able to fire you for what you do in your own personal time. I think you should be able to express all kinds of unpopular opinions and opinions that go against government policy as long as you’re not on taxpayer time. The fact is, for private companies, I despise the idea that once you work for them they own you and any action on your off-time is a reflection on them. Private companies have the right to make this decision, but the government shouldn’t. The reason why is think beyond the NJ Transit. This is really about who is powerful enough to get away with such freedom of expression while still working for the government. A lowly transit worker doesn’t stand a chance but how many politicians and bureaucrats have made asses of themselves in reference to religion or race and not been fired?
BTW: Someone has already posted this clip on YouTube. As with any TV clip it may or may not last but feel free to take a look.