by Meridith Levinson

Home Depot vs. Trevor Keezer and The God Squad

Nov 03, 2009

Does our right to free speech apply to the workplace? Nope.

Trevor Keezer told the Associated Press that he was fired from his job as a cashier at The Home Depot on October 23, 2009, for wearing a pin on his orange apron that expressed his religious beliefs. The pin featured a picture of Old Glory and contained the following words from the Pledge of Allegiance: “…one nation, under God… INDIVISIBLE.”

He’d been wearing the pin since March 2008 to support his brother, a soldier in Iraq, and to show his love for God and country, Keezer said. (See the AP story for additional details.)

A spokesperson for The Home Depot explained to the AP that Keezer was let go for violating the company’s dress code. Keezer declined to wear a patriotic pin that store management had offered to him, the spokesperson said. Home Depot’s sanctioned pin read, “United We Stand.”

Keezer’s attorney notes that her client was fired shortly after he started bringing a Bible to work so that he could read it on breaks. She plans to sue Atlanta-based Home Depot for religious discrimination.

Why religious discrimination and not violation of her client’s Constitutional right to free speech? Michael Masinter, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., says that free speech provisions in the First Amendment only limit the government’s power, not private citizens or corporations.  

“While it is true that the First Amendment prevents the government from restricting your freedom of speech, it does not prevent The Home Depot or any private citizen or entity from imposing limits upon what can be said on their property,” Masinter says. “There is no freedom of speech under the U.S. Constitution that applies in the private workplace.”

The fact that Americans’ freedom of speech isn’t protected by the Constitution in the workplace must have come as a shock to Keezer. In an interview with Fox News, Keezer said, “I don’t see how it’s American to make me take off a pin that represents so much.” After all, freedom and democracy is what his brother is fighting for in Iraq.

While the Constitution may not protect Americans’ right to free speech in the workplace, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does protect them from racial, sexual and religious discrimination in hiring, promotions and discharges, says Masinter. That’s why Keezer’s attorney is fighting his termination on the grounds of anti-discrimination laws.

The question the court will have to decide: Was Trevor Keezer fired for his religious beliefs, or because he refused to follow his employer’s dress code?

Masinter says religious discrimination may be tough to prove on the basis of the pin alone because the message on the pin could be seen as more of a political statement than a religious one. “If it’s a political statement, there is no law that protects his right to make that statement,” says the law professor, adding that wearing the pin is not like wearing a yarmulke if you’re an Orthodox Jew or a cross if you’re an observant Christian.  

The blog Incertus argues that Keezer brought the firing upon himself by refusing to remove his button. The sanctimonious pundits at Fox News, on the other hand, have thrown their support Keezer’s way and all but called for a boycott of Home Depot for firing such a principled, patriotic worker.

Regardless of what side you’re on,

I think we can all agree that the Trevor Keezer vs. The Home Depot case certainly raises interesting questions about the limits of our freedoms in America.