Noble or reckless? How are we as a society supposed to perceive and treat whistle-blowers? Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court came down on whistle-blowers, hard.
As flagged in Governing.com and covered in detail in Latimes.com, last Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment doesn't protect America's 21 million public employees. In a case brought by the Los Angeles County prosecutor, it was found that although public employees can speak freely outside their offices, they can't do that inside them, at least not on issues concerning "their official duties." The original case concerned a Deputy District Attorney who had been disciplined after he submitted internally memos about alleged misconduct by a police officer.
The implications of this should be clear: Government employees cannot go to their superior in their official office space and report or complain about possible wrongdoing. They can be punished, said the Court in a 5-4 decision. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy observed that if someone enters government service he or she is aware that there will be limits on freedom of speech. Government is being treated as one of those "special institutions" in a society.
Naturally, attorneys representing government whistle-blowers decried this U.S. Supreme Court decision as a tremendous setback.
Closer to home here in Connecticut (CT) we have a somewhat analogous situation of Rev. Michael Madden who is employed by St. John's Parish in Darien, CT. By some definitions of "whistle-blower," Rev. Madden can be perceived as one. He did discuss alleged wrongdoing in his workplace, but ironically not to a superior. Instead, Rev. Madden, without his superior's knowledge or permission, hired using his own money an outside private investigator. That PI was assigned by Rev. Madden to look into the alleged wrongdoing by the pastor of the parish. The results of that investigation were disclosed in the media.
Like government employees, Rev. Madden could be considered as having a special kind of employment. After all, religious institutions do receive special treatment such as not being taxed. As an employee of a special institution, Rev. Madden might be expected to have limits on his freedom of speech. These expectations might have been expressed to him explicitly or implicitly.
After the Diocese of Bridgeport was informed that Rev. Madden had engaged in these activities he was demoted from his recent promotion to pastor, after the incumbent pastor resigned. Some in St. John's Parish, as reported in media such as the STAMFORD ADVOCATE, perceive Rev. Madden's demotion as unfair or unjust.
Obviously, the lesson here, nationally and locally, is that the universe doesn't smile on whistle-blowers, particularly is they are employed by society's "special" institutions.