Ralph Silvestro, a legal clerk in Philedelphia proudly displayed an American flag he had taped to the side of his work computer. Silvestro served in the Navy for six years and in the Air Force Reserve for another six, the miniature American flag affixed to his computer was a symbol of his patriotism. He never thought it would be a problem especially working in a courthouse.
No one complained about the flags. Then on Sept. 23, Silvestro got an e-mail from his supervisor. The email said "the flags must come down. They are not appropriate for the workplace." He also had a pirate flag, which he had no problem taking that down, but was confused to why take down the American flag. "I served this country for 12 years. I could have died for this flag, but I can't hang it up. What's up with that? I don't understand," Silvestro said in an interview earlier this week. Silvestro added: "For me, this is about my rights being taken away from me in a building where your rights are supposed to mean more than anything."
When asked if Smith had violated Silvestro's constitutional rights, perhaps infringing on his freedom of expression, a civil-rights lawyer said: "No."
"Here's the thing: Your boss rules your life," said Mary Catherine Roper, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania's Philadelphia office. "Your employer gets to make the rules."
As long as Smith applies the same rules to everybody evenly, meaning no staffer is allowed to display the American flag at the public counter, Smith is on solid legal ground, Roper said.
"People really have no idea how much control they have to give up when they go work," Roper said. "Workers generally don't have a lot of rights."
- Are you surprised at this story?
- Do you think patriotism is low?