Should a state trooper, who happens to be a member of Ku Klux Klan, keep his job? For many, I would imagine the visceral response is understandably no. The Klan represents a dark chapter in our history, reminding us that long before al Qaeda became a household name, America already possessed a collection of homegrown terrorist organizations.
It perhaps comes with little surprise that Robert Henderson, a Nebraska state trooper, lost his job in March for his affiliation with the infamous group. According to the Associated Press, Henderson was not fired because he belonged to the Klan, rather he was ousted because he could not uphold the public trust and remain a member.
But an arbitrator recently disagreed with that decision, ordering the State Patrol to reinstate Henderson within 60 days and pay him back wages. The state of Nebraska is appealing the decision.
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning stated, "The integrity of Nebraska's law enforcement is at risk." He added, "The Constitution does not require law enforcement to employ anyone tied to the KKK."
Personally, I would have no problem with Henderson losing his job were it not for that inconvenient document known as the Constitution. Henderson's free speech is therefore protected under the First Amendment.
Henderson allegedly joined the Klan for two reasons: His wife had "divorced him for a minority" and the KKK gave him an avenue to vent his frustration.
As Neanderthal as Henderson's reasoning may be, one cannot advocate for "exceptions" to the First Amendment--it is a slippery slope that would unravel the very fabric of the nation.
If Henderson loses his job based on his affiliation with a group that most find reprehensible, it would only serve to open the possibility for similar acts to be conducted against organizations that we may not find as objectionable.
It is tempting to suggest that the unique assignment of law enforcement make it difficult for Henderson to carry out his responsibilities in a just manner. Does Henderson's affiliation with the Klan predispose him to unjust acts toward certain groups?
I certainly would not want to be the person he pulls over on a late Nebraska night. But to take action against Henderson based on his associations, hardly seems like America at its best.
Don't misunderstand, it is challenging to argue for someone who belongs to an organization that touts on its website: "If you are not of the White race, this web site is not for the likes of YOU! We reserve the right of free speech to state our views whether our enemies like it or not." But my personal understanding of morality cannot be the end point for public policy.
When we are armed with the twin demons of arrogance and ignorance we associate what it means to be an "American" based on what we personally like or approve. But the measure of our commitment to American ideals is exactly the opposite--it is often based on our ability to defend something that we may not personally support, like the Klan's right to free speech.
The post 9/11 public conversation has been whittled down to "you're either with us or against us," causing supporters of the invasion of Iraq to look upon dissenters with Benedict Arnold-like contempt at a time when they should have been thanking them for asking the questions they were unable to ask.
Not wanting to engage in the tough struggle that our values call us to, we have opted to become political Hatfield's and McCoy's. Such thinking, as Teddy Roosevelt put it, "is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
Does our collective understanding of American values allow us to advocate for Henderson getting his job back? Or should his racist leanings warrant his being a justifiable exception to the rule?
If so, bear in mind that we used similar reasoning to justify our post 9/11 behavior and look where it has gotten us.
Therefore, I have no problem advocating for Henderson's job. I just hope the Nebraska State Patrol would reassign him to administrative tasks.