John Leo
The governor of Maryland fired one of his appointees to the Washington Metro transit authority board for stating a negative opinion of homosexuality on a cable TV talk show. The board member, Robert Smith, had said: "Homosexual behavior, in my view, is deviant. I'm a Roman Catholic." The governor, Robert Ehrlich, said Smith's remarks were "highly inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable."

"Insensitive" sounds like a fair comment. "Deviant" is a harsh word for expressing one's non-approval of homosexuality. The governor is on less firm ground with "inappropriate." Smith's comment certainly was apropos of the talk-show topic, gay marriage. He was explaining why he opposed it. "I'm Catholic" was shorthand for "I take my religion seriously and, like millions of other Christians, my views on marriage and my non-approval of homosexual sex are biblically based."

Ehrlich's third adjective, "unacceptable," is surely debatable. Did he mean that all members of Washington-area boards are required to approve of homosexuality, or just that they must suppress any non-positive views during TV discussions of same-sex marriage? The governor, a Republican who is up for re-election and is trying to move from the right to the center, clearly hasn't thought the issue through. He certainly seems to be banishing Smith for a thought crime. Perhaps he did so because he knew his Democratic opponents would come after him for tolerating "hate speech" if he let Smith stay on. Smith argues that his social opinions have "absolutely nothing to do with running trains and buses" and that they haven't affected his actions or decisions on the board.

Maybe it's not a good idea for government transit specialists to be pronouncing on divisive social issues. But they clearly have a right to do so. The Supreme Court says the First Amendment protects the right of public employees and appointees to speak freely on matters of public concern. So if Smith wants to sue over his firing, he seems likely to win. At any rate, liberals routinely argue that people should not be fired for behavior or speech unrelated to their jobs, such as professors who make loony remarks out of class, or schoolteachers who have children out of wedlock.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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