A federal appeals court ruled this week that a Facebook "like" is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. "Liking" something on the social media site is a "substantive statement" being made by a user, said the court, and it should have the same free speech protections as other modes of expression.

The ruling by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is the latest in a legal battle involving a former sheriff's deputy and his ex-boss.

As CNN explained in a report last year, the saga began several years ago when Sheriff B.J. Roberts of Hampton, Va., fired his deputy, Daniel Ray Carter Jr., and five other employees for supporting his rival in a 2009 election.

Carter had reportedly shown his support for the other candidate by "liking" the "Jim Adams For Hampton Sheriff" page. Roberts, who was re-elected, allegedly canned Carter in retaliation for his actions.

Arguing that his Facebook "like" should be protected by the First Amendment, Carter sued his former employer.

However, in 2012, a Virginia U.S. District Court judge ruled against Carter, saying that "'liking' a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection" because it doesn't "involve actual statements."

Undeterred, Carter appealed the ruling, winning the vocal support of the American Civil Liberties Union and Facebook, both of which filed amicus briefs for Carter to the Fourth Circuit, Forbes reports.

"'Liking' something on Facebook expresses a clear message -- one recognized by millions of Facebook users and non-Facebook users -- and is both pure speech and symbolic expression that warrants constitutional protection," wrote the ACLU in its brief. "Although it requires only a click of a computer mouse, a Facebook 'Like' publishes text that literally states that the user likes something … [and] is, thus, a means of expressing support -- whether for an individual, an organization, an event, a sports team, a restaurant, or a cause."

The federal appeals court appears to agree with this line of reasoning. On Wednesday, it ruled in favor of Carter, saying that he can indeed sue his former boss for allegedly firing him because of a Facebook "like."

"Liking" the political rivals' campaign page was the “Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech,” the court said, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“Once one understands the nature of what Carter did by liking the Campaign Page, it becomes apparent that his conduct qualifies as speech,” wrote Chief Judge William B. Traxler Jr.

Read the court's ruling here:

Facebook 4 Th Circuit

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Buckingham Palace Guard Canned For Allegedly Calling Kate Middleton Names

    <a href="http://www.radaronline.com/exclusives/2011/04/buckingham-palace-guard-fired-royal-wedding-kate-middleton-stupid-stuck-cow" target="_hplink">As reported by Radar Online,</a> an 18-year-old Buckingham Palace Guard was fired from his post ahead of the royal wedding after he allegedly slammed Kate Middleton in a Facebook post. <a href="http://www.radaronline.com/exclusives/2011/04/buckingham-palace-guard-fired-royal-wedding-kate-middleton-stupid-stuck-cow" target="_hplink">According to Radar Online</a>, the post, which was removed, read, "Hur and william drove past me on friday n all a got was a sh***y wave while she looked the opposite way from me, stupid stuck up cow am I not good enough for them! posh bitch am totally with u on this 1 who reely gives a f about hur."

  • Homeless Shelter Worker Fired For Calling Job "Spooky"

    An employee at a residential facility for the homeless was <a href="http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202518321075&slreturn=1" target="_hplink">fired after posting on Facebook about an overnight shift</a> and apparently making light of the fact that many of the residents are mentally ill. <a href="http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/id/ldue-8k6pyz/$File/Martin House - Facebook.pdf" target="_hplink">According to a National Labor Relations Board document, she wrote,</a> "Spooky is overnight, third floor, alone in a mental institution, btw Im not a client, not yet anyway." The post was reported to the managers of the facility by a former resident who was Facebook friends with the employee.

  • Gay High School Coach Fired Over Facebook Photos

    A water polo coach at a California high school has filed a discrimination complaint against the school district after being fired over his Facebook photos. <a href="http://www.sgvtribune.com/news/ci_19069184" target="_hplink">According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune,</a> a parent sent copies of the photos to the school's principal along with a letter declaring him "unfit to coach." The photos showed the him "posing with two drag queens" and "about to eat a corn dog," <a href="http://www.sgvtribune.com/news/ci_19069184" target="_hplink">writes the Tribune</a>.

  • Bank Employee Let Go For Posting About Superior's Salary

    Stephanie Bon, a former HR assistant at Britain's Lloyds Banking Group, <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1373723/Bank-worker-Stephanie-Bon-fired-Facebook-post-Lloyds-boss-4k-hour-salary.html" target="_hplink">was fired after posting a comment</a> about the fact that her boss made more money than she. <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1373723/Bank-worker-Stephanie-Bon-fired-Facebook-post-Lloyds-boss-4k-hour-salary.html" target="_hplink">According to the Daily Mail</a>, her controversial Facebook status update read, "LBG's new CEO gets £4,000 an hour. I get £7. That's fair."

  • Doctor Fired For Posting About Trauma Patient

    <a href="http://articles.boston.com/2011-04-20/lifestyle/29451939_1_social-media-patient-emergency-room" target="_hplink">According to the Boston.com</a>, a 48-year-old Rhode Island doctor was fired after she posted information about a trauma patient on her Facebook page. While Dr. Than didn't reveal the patient's name, <a href="http://www.health.ri.gov/discipline/MDAlexandraThran.pdf" target="_hplink">the hospital board concluded</a> that she had posted enough information that people who knew the patient would know who Dr. Than was talking about. Not only was the doctor fired and reprimanded by state regulators, but she also had to pay $500 and attend a continuing education class.

  • Teen Fired For Complaining About 'Boring' Job

    A British teenager was fired after updating her Facebook status with comments about how bored she was with her job as an administrative assistant at a product development and sourcing company. "[A]ll i do is shred holepunch n scan paper!!! omg!" read one of her comments, <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1155971/Teenage-office-worker-sacked-moaning-Facebook-totally-boring-job.html#ixzz1aP7zuSQ7" target="_hplink">according to the Daily Mail</a>. "I think it is really sad," the teen said of her termination, <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1155971/Teenage-office-worker-sacked-moaning-Facebook-totally-boring-job.html#ixzz1aP7zuSQ7" target="_hplink">per the Daily Mail</a>, "it makes them look stupid that they are going to be so petty."

  • Cop Canned After Resident Complains About Profile

    <a href="http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2009/01/18/449207/2-officers-lose-jobs-over-online.html" target="_hplink">According to Wasgington's Tri-City Herald</a>, state police officer Matt Blahut was given the option of resignation after a resident complained about photos on his friends-only profile that showed him drinking. The local father became alarmed when he saw his daughter looking at Blahut's profile, <a href="http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2009/01/18/449207/2-officers-lose-jobs-over-online.html" target="_hplink">he told the Herald</a>. "He's saying he's drunk. It shows him in uniform ... Law enforcement's supposed to set an example for these kids," <a href="http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2009/01/18/449207/2-officers-lose-jobs-over-online.html" target="_hplink">the man said</a>. Within days of the complaint Blahut was given his walking papers. "If we see this kind of judgment early on in somebody's career, what's to come?" <a href="http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2009/01/18/449207/2-officers-lose-jobs-over-online.html" target="_hplink">State Patrol Captain Jeff DeVere told the paper</a>.

  • Cop Fired For 'Compromising' DUI Checkpoint

    <a href="http://www.fox16.com/news/local/story/Shannon-Hills-Police-Officer-fired-over-Facebook/VBd65bX4Jkybk5YkXb4Clw.cspx" target="_hplink">Fox 16 reports</a> that an Arkansas police officer Scott Chaloner was fired after posting the following on his Facebook page: "If you live in Alexander and you're drinking and driving, get yourself a designated driver. If you don't and you're out on the streets, you'll wish you had. just a word to the wise." While the officer's superior said his post compromised a planned DUI checkpoint, Chaloner maintains that the statement was merely a public service announcement, <a href="http://www.fox16.com/news/local/story/Shannon-Hills-Police-Officer-fired-over-Facebook/VBd65bX4Jkybk5YkXb4Clw.cspx" target="_hplink">according to Fox 16</a>.

  • Professor Fired After Posting About Student's Test Scores

    Jason Liptow, a professor at a Michigan community college, <a href="http://www.themorningsun.com/articles/2011/07/07/news/doc4e14e00d92218189097398.txt?viewmode=fullstory" target="_hplink">was fired after using a failing student as a cautionary tale</a> in a Facebook status post, <a href="http://www.themorningsun.com/articles/2011/07/07/news/doc4e14e00d92218189097398.txt?viewmode=fullstory" target="_hplink">according to Michigan's Morning Sun</a>. "Student emailed me wanting to know how he could pass the class, he hadn't been there and failed three open-book tests," wrote Liptow, <a href="http://www.themorningsun.com/articles/2011/07/07/news/doc4e14e00d92218189097398.txt?viewmode=fullstory" target="_hplink">per the Sun</a>. Liptow claimed he was let go because of his plans to form a teacher's union and not because of the status update.

  • Firefighter Facebook Fired For Allegedly Bigoted Posts

    <a href="http://www.wickedlocal.com/bourne/archive/x1054072012/Bourne-firefighter-paramedic-is-fired-over-his-Facebook-posts#ixzz1aOj2dY1l" target="_hplink">According to the Bourne Courier,</a> Massachusetts firefighter and paramedic Richard Doherty was let go after repeatedly posting Facebook updates that showed "disrespect to gay individuals, mentally challenged individuals, patriotic citizens, public officials or people who might have a viewpoint different from his." In a disciplinary hearing, <a href="http://www.wickedlocal.com/bourne/archive/x1054072012/Bourne-firefighter-paramedic-is-fired-over-his-Facebook-posts#ixzz1aOj2dY1l" target="_hplink">Doherty said his comments</a> had been "misunderstood."

  • Teacher Fired For Joking About Drowning Her Students

    <a href="http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/brooklyn/facebook_vent_burns_teacher_JiHBB6wQwDljiYVfcUiIpN#ixzz1aOyc7yMg" target="_hplink">In March, the New York Post reported</a> that Brooklyn school teacher Christine Rubino could lose her job after writing the following on Facebook: "After today, I'm thinking the beach is a good trip for my class. I hate their guts." She was supposedly referencing an incident that had occurred the previous day, in which a New York student had drowned while on a field trip to the beach. While only Rubino's Facebook friends could see what she posted to Facebook, one of them was a fellow teacher who forwarded her comment to the principal.

  • Woman Fired For Calling Boss A 'Complete Tool'

    Leila Goodman of North Carolina was fired after calling her boss a "complete tool" because the company she worked for had decided not to allow employees to work overtime. <a href="http://www.wxii12.com/news/25761585/detail.html" target="_hplink">According to an attorney interviewed by WXII12.com,</a> the firing was legal since Goodman's comments fall under insubordination and not protected speech.

  • Woman Calls Boss A Mental Patient, Gets Fired

    Dawnmarie Souza, a medical technician, was fired for repeatedly bashing her boss on Facebook. <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/social.media/11/09/facebook.firing/index.html" target="_hplink">According to CNN,</a> the mildest of these disparagements was "comparing the supervisor to a psychiatric patient." However, the National Labor Relations Board, believes the firing was unlawful and filed a complaint against the company, saying that workers' criticism of their bosses on Facebook is "protected concerted activity."

  • RELATED VIDEO