Freedom To Complain About Government Officials

Yesterday I noted a story about someone who criticized President Obama and wound up being interviewed by the Secret Service. The person has signs up at his business with fallacious criticism, and has criticized Obama on Facebook. He was acting within his First Amendment rights, regardless of how absurd his claims are. Unless there is more to this story than I am aware of, such as statements promoting violence, there was no reason for any law enforcement agencies to get involved. Reportedly his statements made it to the Secret Service who interviewed him and laughed off the incident.

Today there is a report of a high school student being harassed due to a tweet which was critical of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback:

A Kansas teenager is in trouble after mocking Gov. Sam Brownback during a mock legislative assembly for high school students.

Emma Sullivan, a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, was in Topeka on Monday as part of Kansas Youth in Government, a program for students interested in politics and government.

During the session, in which Brownback addressed the group, Sullivan posted on her personal Twitter page:

“Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot”

On Tuesday, Sullivan was called to her principal’s office and told that the tweet had been flagged by someone on Brownback’s staff and reported to organizers of the Youth in Government program…

Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said her office had forwarded a copy of Sullivan’s tweet to organizers of the school-sponsored event “so that they were aware what their students were saying in regards to the governor’s appearance.

“We monitor social media so we can see what Kansans are thinking and saying about the governor and his policies,” Jones-Sontag said.

“We just felt it was appropriate for the organizers to be aware … because of what was said in the tweet.”

Sullivan, 18, said she posted the comment because she doesn’t agree with Brownback’s policies, particularly recent cuts in state aid to schools. She is a registered Democrat.

“Some of my friends were joking about what they’d really like to say (to Brownback), so I just took out my phone” and tweeted, she said. “I guess it was kind of a heat-of-the-moment thing.”

This sounds like a quite clear violation of First Amendment rights, with both Governor Brownback’s office and the school principal acting inappropriately.

Update: I did receive this link from a reader who says that the person in the first incident was a member of right wing militias and had threatened the president. If that is the case, then the Secret Service was right to interview him. It is the principle as opposed to the specifics of this particular case which is most important–merely criticizing a government official, regardless of party and regardless of the validity of the criticism, should not lead to retaliation from any unit of government.