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The naked truth, the Supreme Court says, is that the U.S. Constitution’s free speech guarantee doesn’t protect a police officer who used the Internet to sell videotapes of himself stripping off his uniform and pretending to write tickets. The Court traditionally has been very protective of speech rights. But justices had no sympathy Monday for a former San Diego officer who uses the Internet name “Code3stud,” a play on words incorporating the term for an emergency police call. The policeman, identified in court papers only as “John Roe,” contended his free speech rights were violated when his bosses learned of his outside activities, gave him a warning, then fired him. The Supreme Court ruled against him without even hearing arguments. The justices issued an unsigned opinion that found his speech “was detrimental to the mission and functions of the employer.” “It’s unanimous, a signal that the court thought it was a constitutional no-brainer,” said free speech expert Keith Werhan of Tulane University in New Orleans. “This has an important meaning, but I don’t think the court is retreating on First Amendment protection in a serious way.” The decision could make it harder for some government employees to win free speech cases, he said, because it seems to set a higher threshold for claims. At issue was the scope of the First Amendment, which protects government workers if their speech involves a “public concern” rather than personal, job-related issues such as salary or promotions. More than 20 million Americans work for state, local and federal governments. In overturning a lower court ruling in Roe’s favor, justices said the officer’s “expression does not qualify as a matter of public concern under any view.” Roe was fired in 2001 after his supervisor discovered the sex videos were being sold on eBay, the Internet auction site. The videos showed Roe, a seven-year officer, removing his police uniform and then masturbating. In one video, he pretends to issue a traffic citation. Roe also sold men’s underwear and police uniforms online. The high court seemed particularly disturbed by his use of a uniform, although it was not his official San Diego outfit, and said “the debased parody of an officer performing indecent acts while in the course of official duties brought the mission of the employer and the professionalism of its officers into serious disrepute.” Roe claimed in his lawsuit that his activity was a “public concern” because the sex videos were made while he was off-duty and away from the workplace, were marketed to a public audience and did not identify him as a San Diego officer. Police officials argued in their appeal that only issues of political or social importance should be constitutionally protected. Roe won at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, widely considered the country’s most liberal appeals court, which reasoned the First Amendment was designed to protect the expression of ideas that the “overwhelming majority of people might find distasteful or discomforting.” Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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