It has recently come to my attention that the dismissal of Hopewell Township Police Officer Sergeant Sara Erwin and the demotion of Sergeant Mandy Grey for exercising their First Amendment rights are being appealed to the State Superior Court and I wholeheartedly hope that the Court rules in their favor. The arbitrary and capricious (re)action of the Hopewell Township Committee against these two officers for what I regard as simply harmless and protected expressions of personal opinions needs to be redressed in the officers’ favor.
On June 23, 2021, the U S Supreme Court in an 8 to 1 ruling upheld the First Amendment rights of a Pennsylvania high school student that had been punished by her local school authorities for sharing her opinions on social media while off campus and after hours. The Court reversed the drubbing she received for exercising her right to freedom of speech. Drawing from this decision I assert that the Township Committee has no special license to regulate speech while our Police Department members are “off the clock”. The social media postings cited as the basis for the punitive action taken against these officers did not cause any significant disruption or harm in either the Police Department or the Township at large except in the minds of Township Committee members. Hence, the dismissal and reduction in rank actions taken are no more than a denial of the Officers’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Rather than wait for the Superior Court to rule, I would like to see the Township Committee review and reverse what I perceive as a knee-jerk reaction based wholly on differences of opinion which I regard as abuse of power that they have no legitimate right to lay claim to. At all levels of elected government this is a nation of laws that we are all obliged to recognize and adhere to irregardless of individual or collective personal likes and dislikes.
Hopewell Township resident
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