People talk about "free speech rights" all the time. But, in reality, our free speech rights are rather limited. Until the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Lane v. Franks, No. 13-483 (6/19/14), for example, "free speech" did not apply to speaking publicly about a co-worker at the risk of one’s job. Edward Lane testified before a grand jury about a co-worker who was being paid but never appeared for work. The co-worker was indicted by the U.S. government. But, Mr. Lane was fired. 

The lower court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment, saying Mr. Lane’s testimony was part of his normal job duties. Case law provides that a person may not enjoy first amendment protection for speaking pursuant to his/her job duties.  The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, saying a public employee would not enjoy free speech protection simply because his speaking owes its existence to his/her professional responsibilities. That is, just because a public sector employee knows something does not make his speech "free speech." The 11th Circuit court was stretching to reach a particular result.

The U.S. Supreme Court looked at the situation more practically. A public employee does not "normally" talk to grand juries. That is just not in Mr. Lane’s job description. He was required to testify truthfully. That requirement lies with all citizens, not just public sector employees.

Too, it is inherent in the free speech line of cases that public employees have information that is valuable to the public. It is precisely that sort of information that the courts have sought to protect. The courts should encourage such information to shed light on governmental entities that might otherwise seek to avoid scrutiny. See Supreme Court decision here