The City of Orem banned book displays for gay pride, women’s history, and minority groups. When the Utah Library Association (ULA) criticized that policy as discriminating against particular viewpoints, the city stripped library staff, including Orem librarian and former president of the ULA Rita Christensen, of a key professional benefit the city provided for years: time and resources to join and participate in ULA programs. Further, the city warned the librarians not to criticize its policies, or else risk being fired under an unconstitutionally vague social media policy that forbids employees from making “disparaging comments” about the city, its policies, or its leadership.
But public employees do not lose the right to criticize the government just because they work for it. And the public needs to know what’s happening inside the government from those with first-hand knowledge. That’s why FIRE is warning the city: Restore the librarians’ benefits on equal footing as other city employees and lose the unconstitutional gag policy. If you don’t, we’ll sue.
On June 1, 2023, FIRE sent a letter to the City of Orem demanding that the city end its retaliatory stripping of benefits for library employees wanting to associate with the ULA and revise its social media policy to clarify that employees retain their First Amendment right to criticize government policies when speaking in their capacities as private citizens on matters of public concern.
No one should be afraid to speak out against their government. That’s why FIRE is representing the ULA to fight for a culture of free thought rather than a culture of silence at the Orem Library.
On July 7, 2023, the City of Orem responded by lifting its policy banning employees from participating in ULA, and inviting further dialogue about changes to the social media policy. The City’s restoration of employee benefits is a victory for ULA and the employees at the Orem Library. But FIRE will continue to fight to ensure that the unlawful social media policy does not continue to chill employee speech.