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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

ACLU Files Lawsuit For Smithville Teacher Fired Over Anti-Dairy Farm Facebook Post

Posted By on Wed, Mar 4, 2015 at 5:27 PM

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In rural Wayne County last year, a Vegan elementary school teacher was fired because he essentially upset the districts "biggest tax payers" after using his personal Facebook page to criticize the inhumane treatment of cows at an area dairy farm. Today the teacher, represented by lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, filed suit against the school board and its administrators alleging the teacher's First Amendment rights were violated when he was canned following his post.

Keith Allison, who was working at Green Elementary School in Smithville, is a staunch vegan with "deeply held moral convictions, to abstain from consuming animal products." Last summer, Allison posted a picture he took from the street of an unnamed local dairy farm, where cows where being held in rows of tiny crates. He included the following status:

This place is five miles from my house and, for those who don't already know, these are crates to house baby dairy cows who are separated from their mothers usually within a day of birth. As someone who grew up feeling paternal love and support and now as a parent who gives paternal love and support, I reject the claim that separating babies from loving mothers to raise them isolated in boxes can ever be considered humane. — Keith

And:

The cruelty of separation, loneliness, and infant slaughter lingers inside each glass of cow's milk. Your voice can help change the system. You don't have to support this. Plant-based milks are everywhere and are delicious.

Here are the pictures he posted:

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Somehow school administrators got ahold of the post, and they were not pleased. In August, he was called into a meeting with school principal Chris Miller and district superintendent Judy Robinson, where Robinson "explained that Wayne County had a large number of dairy farmers, and that teachers needed to be careful not to offend the local agricultural industry," the suit says. Robinson told the teacher "he was free to believe whatever he wished, but that if he wished to continue to engage in vegan advocacy outside of work, he should reconsider being a teacher." She also told him he'd be demoted and his pay rate "would be retroactively lowered he had already worked."

A few days later, Robinson sent an email to school board members with an agenda for their upcoming meeting. The first thing Robinson mentions is Allison, and that his post upset local farmers who had kids in the district, and that he'd be let go because of it. Here's what she said (emphasis ours):

Title I Tutor pulled from Monday's agenda: he has been told, effective today, that we won't be employing him at this time. I interviewed him with Chris Miller on Tuesday and he thinks the family is over-reacting to the posting of their house/crates online. The family enrolled their (3) children at Kingsway. It's a difficult issue and we may lose his children as well but we need our teachers to really consider the whole community when doing these sort of things, especially when our biggest tax payers are dairy farmers.

On behalf of Keith Allison, lawyers for the ACLU, with some help from lawyers from PETA, are suing the the Green Local School District board, its board members, and the district superintendent, stating:

Defendants violated Allison's constitutional rights by retaliating against him on the basis of his constitutionally-protected speech. Allison's speech was on a matter of public concern, and was made in his capacity as a private citizen. Defendants had no valid interest that would justify punishing or censoring Allison for his commentary on dairy farming. In the alternative, any interest that Defendants had was outweighed by Allison's interest in speaking, as a private citizen, on an issue of political and social importance. Defendants retaliated against Allison for his constitutionally-protected speech by revoking his offer of employment as a Title I tutor, refusing to hire him as a substitute teacher, and retroactively docking his pay.

Read the full suit here:

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