Judicial Watch has filed a First Amendment lawsuit on behalf of an Illinois teacher who was fired after criticizing the rioting, looting and other violence that broke out in Chicago after the death of George Floyd last May.
Jeanne Hedgepeth, of Palatine, 35 miles northwest of Willis Tower, made the posts on her personal Facebook account while on summer break following the end of the school year, the conservative legal group said in a statement. She did not exchange posts with any current students or colleagues, and the profile made no mention of her employer.
Floyd was killed on May 25 in an incident that was recorded on video and led to a conviction on murder charges for one of the four Minneapolis police officers involved. Three others are still awaiting trial.
In the days that followed, protests and riots broke out around the country. That weekend in Chicago, which saw extensive looting, 82 people were shot, 19 fatally. The Chicago Sun-Times described that Sunday, May 31, as the most violent day the Windy City had seen in 60 years.
"I don’t want to go home tomorrow," Hedgepeth wrote on Facebook that day, while vacationing in Florida. "Now that the civil war has begun I want to move."
"Follow your gut!" Someone replied, to which Hedgepeth answered, "I need a gun and training."
She also shared a meme about riot control using a water cannon hooked up to a septic truck and wrote a lengthy June 1 post referencing race, crime and the media:
"I am about facts, truth seeking and love. I will speak on any topic I choose because I live in a free country. I find the term ‘white privilege’ as racist as the ‘N’ word. You have not walked in my shoes either so do not make assumptions about me and my so called privilege. You think America is racist? Then you have been hoodwinked by the white liberal establishment and race baiters like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Travel the world and go see that every nation has racism and some more than others but few make efforts such as we do to mitigate or eliminate it. I have lived and seen. The people I am informed by about the black experience in America are actually some of the smartest people in America. And it so happens they are black. I highly recommend studying Thomas Sowell, who is now retired and in his 80’s. A treasure. A truth seeker. [D]oes REAL research and analysis. Candice Owens is one of the smartest and most courageous women in America and Larry Elders speaks the truth with a great sense of humor and FACTS not feelings. They are who I listen to when it comes to facts about the black experience in America. Don’t you think there is a deeper problem than racism when 50% of murders in America are committed by 13% of the population? Do you think there might be a subtle genocide of black babies when most planned parenthoods are put in poor neighborhoods and that 30% of abortions are black babies. [B]lack women only make up 7% of the U.S. population. The greatest power you have is what you believe about yourself. [W]hat have Democrats, mainstream media and intellectuals in ivory towers been telling the black community to believe about themselves for forty years? Wake up and stop believing them, then things will change."
Two weeks later, a Facebook group called D211 Community for Justice, a reference to District 211, where Hedgepeth worked, urged residents to email school board members and condemn her. Ultimately, the board voted 5-2 to let her go.
"This is a free country – there’s this thing called the First Amendment," said attorney Christine Svenson, who is assisting Judicial Watch with the case. "A person has the right to speak about matters of public concern on their personal Facebook post, and that has absolutely nothing to do with his or her job."
She told Fox News Tuesday that cases like this should give Americans reason to be fearful about the state of cancel culture and censorship.
"This woman was nowhere near her job, the school year had ended, and she gets terminated for voicing her opinions about the world," Svenson said. "People should really be afraid and people should be willing to stand up, because if they're not willing to do that again, we're headed to be I mean, we're going to be North Korea, we're going to be China, we’re going to be Venezuela very quickly…we’re halfway there."
And she was also heaping praise on prominent Black conservatives like the radio host Larry Elder, activists Candice Owes and the scholar Thomas Sowell, the latter whom she called "a treasure" and a "truth seeker."
The lawsuit names Township High School District 211, board members and officials who participated directly in the firing.
"The school district took what could have been a teachable moment about respecting diversity of viewpoints and turned it into a clear civil rights violation," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. "Jeanne Hedgepeth had every right to express herself freely and openly on her personal Facebook page, outside of school, about matters of undeniable public concern. Firing her for doing so violated the First Amendment, and the school district and district officials who did so will be held accountable."