DC Federal District case involving a Peace Corps volunteer

I have received some wonderful feedback and advice regarding my appeal of the Peace Corps’ decision to send me home. One friend in particular found a DC Federal District case involving a Peace Corps volunteer who was terminated for expressing his political views. Here is his email and an excerpt from that case:

Jason, Below is language from a DC Federal District case involving the termination of a Peace Corps volunteer. In this particular case, the individual was expressing political views related to the US military intervention in Grenada, while stationed in the Dominican Republic.

“Peace Corps policy does not prohibit private speech by its volunteers on matters of political expression, although volunteers are admonished to portray their opinions as their own, and not as representative of the Peace Corps or the U.S. Government’s position. … It is only in situations … where there has been a direct threat to the interest of the Peace Corps, that speech is prohibited; thus, the policy is narrowly tailored to restrict speech no more than is necessary to protect a compelling government interest.” Wood v. Ruppe, 659 F.Supp. 403, 410-11 (D.D.C. 1987).

As I had suggested earlier, this case indicates that the Peace Corps has the same burden as any other federal agency in its efforts to restrict Free Speech. In particular, there must be a substantial governmental interest, and the restriction must be the least restrictive means.

I can’t tell you how pleased I was to have someone find some legal precedent regarding my case. While I don’t imagine that I’ll take my case to court, it will be very useful to reference prior court rulings in my appeal to the Peace Corps.

My friend then offers me the following advice regarding the actions that I should take.

I took some time to read through the correspondence that you posted. Here are my thoughts and advice:

  1. Request all relevant documents and information contained in your personnel file relating to the decision to terminate your affiliation.
  2. Write a non-confrontational appeal that focuses on the objective facts. (i.e. You were asked to restrict access, and you complied in a timely manner.)
  3. Indicate that restrictions on speech are not clearly proscribed in any Peace Corps document, other than to be sensitive and refrain from political commentary; it appears from what I’ve seen that you complied with this. I’d avoid from making too strong of 1st amendment claim here, as they won’t want to admit that they are violating your free speech rights, and then reinstate you. If you leave them wiggle room by suggesting that any restrictions were not clearly conveyed, than they can view it as a “mutual misunderstanding”.
  4. The most confrontational I would be, is with respect to Brown individually. I’d use the phrase “arbitrary and capricious” to describe his conduct.

That is my advice if you want to be reinstated.

Now, if you want to drop a fire in the hole, and head for cover, there are a few other options I’d consider. First, I would look into your political contacts. Second, there is always the route of public embarrassment. You have the media experience, contacts, and know how to really disparage the Peace Corps. Third, a letter from someone on good legal letterhead is always fun too.

If I can be of any help or if you want to bounce anything off me, feel free to write. Best of luck Jason.

Oh the possibilities. Thanks so much for the advice. And thanks a bunch for finding the Wood v. Ruppe case.