Free Speech? Not in Jindal’s Louisiana

"Free Speech Doesn't Mean Careless Talk&q...

“Nothing is more despicable than respect based on fear.”

— Albert Camus

Hardly a day passes that I’m not asked by a reader of this blog, “You do have tenure, don’t you?”

The reason for the question is obvious; Gov. Bobby Jindal and his staff simply don’t abide the dissent of state workers and legislators. Therefore, it stands to reason, absent tenure, I’m a marked man.

My answer to this repeated question, most recently posed by a former governor, is always the same, “Yes, I do. But it’s ‘Louisiana tenure.’ If Jindal really wants me gone, he’ll find a way.”

I know that my faculty status at LSU does afford some protection, meaning that the process of firing me for dissent wouldn’t be as easy as getting rid of an untenured instructor or staff member. It was easy, for example, to fire LSU System President John Lombardi (who, because of tenure, was entitled to remain on the faculty of the Baton Rouge campus) and former LSU Health System chief Fred Cerise.

But this post isn’t about my job security. It’s about the thousands of state workers, many of them college faculty and staff members, who dare not speak their minds about state government issues for fear that Gov. Jindal will have them fired.

It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that at a recent forum sponsored by the Baton Rouge chapter of the League of Women voters, president Jean Armstrong ordered local reporters not to photograph state workers in the audience. As reported in the Baton Rouge Advocate, she explained that it was out of fear that those workers would be fired if Jindal’s staff learned of their attendance.

At a public meeting.

Held to discuss public policy.

In America.

You're Fired!

Up until some landmark Supreme Court rulings in the 1920s and 1930s, it was not commonly accepted that the First Amendment’s free-speech clause applied to the states. In other words, before the high court expanded its interpretation, lower federal courts did not believe they had the authority to rule against local and state governments for restricting free speech rights.

But for about 80 years, the First Amendment has applied to the states.

That is, until recently, in Louisiana.

Under Bobby Jindal, Louisiana is now a state where senior employees of the LSU System and the LSU Baton Rouge campus (and presumably administrators on all college campuses) are forbidden to criticize the governor or his policies.

In Louisiana, legislators are not allowed to criticize the governor without losing their committee chairmanships or vice-chairmanships.

Members of the governor’s staff are not allowed to testify truthfully before legislative committees, if in telling the truth they contradict or embarrass the governor.

Someday, Louisiana will again be a democracy. State workers and college administrators will be allowed to comment truthfully on matters of public policy. Even members of the governor’s staff will not be forced to lie to legislative committees in order to protect their jobs.

That day, however, will likely not come before January 2016.

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4 Responses to Free Speech? Not in Jindal’s Louisiana

  1. Richard Stiltner says:

    Bob, I commend you for speaking up about what is happening in our state under the governor’s ruthless policies. More voices need to be added to yours. I appreciate the reasons why those who work under the governor’s threatening power would be reluctant to speak out. There are those of us, however, whom this governor cannot intimidate who need to let him know that the America we believe in has no room for such tyranny. I add my voice of objection to what he is doing.

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  2. Vicky says:

    Public school teacher are afraid as well.

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  3. I.B.Freeman says:

    I think we should spin all the colleges off as private entities and let them live off of their own revenues free to charge tuitions as they see fit and hire and fire as they see fit.

    Maybe we could take what the state spends subsidizing the schools now and give that money to students for tuition vouchers.

    Then the schools will not have to worry about politics any more and will be focused on things like attracting students with quality education and keeping overhead low. They will truly be free.

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  4. Pingback: Des Moines paper to Jindal: Don’t lecture us about our judges « Something Like the Truth

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