Jonathan Turley, professor of public interest law at George Washington University, wrote last week in the Los Angeles Times on the alarming increase in public schools firing teachers over “perfectly lawful behavior during off-hours.”

Most citizens view the end of work each day as a clear line in dividing their responsibilities to an employer from their rights as an individual. While at work, we accept that we must comply with work-related expectations and policies. But when the whistle blows, we consider ourselves our own masters — pursuing recreation or even legal vices as we see fit.

Increasingly, however, public school teachers are being fired or suspended for perfectly lawful activities during off-work hours when those activities are deemed inappropriate by parents or school officials.

Consider a few other such cases in the last few years:

In Pennsylvania in 2010, an unidentified teacher was suspended after a third party posted a picture on Facebook showing her with a male stripper at a bridal shower.

In Georgia in 2011, teacher Ashley Payne lost a court case challenging her forced resignation in 2009. Her departure came after a parent objected to a photo she posted to Facebook showing her holding a drink while on vacation in Europe. School officials said the posting “promoted alcohol use.”

In 2009, Wisconsin teacher Betsy Ramsdale was put on leave for posting a picture of herself looking down the sight of a rifle on her Facebook site.

All of these cases involved completely lawful conduct by teachers outside of school hours. So why did they suffer consequences? As a school board member put it in the case of the Pennsylvania teacher suspended for the bridal party picture, “Everybody has a right to do what they want on their own time, but once kids and parents see it on the Internet, it becomes the school district’s problem.” The trouble with that reasoning is that it allows teachers to enjoy the same basic rights as other citizens only so long as they don’t enjoy them in public.

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