March 7, 2008

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

ACLU says First Amendment Rights Vindicated

Chesterfield County, VA — The ACLU of Virginia today announced that it has reached an agreement with the Chesterfield County School Board in the case of former Monacan High School art teacher Stephen Murmer.  Murmer was fired in January 2007 for creating paintings rendered by transferring paint from his body onto canvasses. The paintings were produced at Murmer’s own expense and during his private time away from work.

"I am glad the School Board saw fit to pay Mr. Murmer about two years’ salary to compensate him for the harm he suffered,” said ACLU of Virginia cooperating attorney Tim Schulte. “I only wish that the students at Monacan High would also be compensated for the loss of an exemplary teacher who was brave enough to stand on principle."

“Our founders recognized that even controversial speech should be protected in a democracy,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg.  “The fact that some administrators were offended by Stephen Murmer’s speech did not give them the right to fire him.”

“The government has limited power to interfere with our private affairs, especially when those affairs are perfectly legal and protected by the Constitution,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “Chesterfield made a mistake when it fired Mr. Murmer for conduct completely unrelated to his ability to be an effective teacher.”

“I am pleased with this settlement,” said Stephen Murmer. “I hope my case will cause schools to think twice before they fire a teacher for expressing himself outside the classroom. This settlement represents a vindication of me and the First Amendment.”

Murmer is represented by ACLU cooperating attorneys Tim Schulte and Blackwell Shelley of Shelley and Schulte, P.C. in Richmond, and ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg. 

A copy of the original complaint filed in U.S District Court in Richmond in October 2007 is available online at
http://www.acluva.org/docket/pleadings/murmer_complaint.pdf

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