December 6, 2007
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
A judge ruled yesterday against the claim of the founding principal of New York City’s first Arabic-themed school that her right to free speech was violated when she was forced out during a furor over comments she made in a newspaper interview.
In a preliminary finding in the case, Judge Sidney H. Stein of Federal District Court in Manhattan ruled against Debbie Almontaser, who had been principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn.
The ruling did not end the case, however. The lawsuit proceeds to a trial based on more evidence, rather than the two-day hearing on which the judge based his preliminary ruling.
Ms. Almontaser sued Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, saying they violated her First Amendment rights by pressuring her to step down after discussing the history of the word “intifada” during an August interview. She had been criticized for not condemning the use of the word on a T-shirt.
The judge said that Ms. Almontaser had participated in the interview as school principal, and that since her employer was responsible for supervising messages to the public, her speech was not protected.
Ms. Almontaser said that the intent of her words about intifada had been distorted. The judge, though, noted that she had been instructed by the schools’ public relations staff not to discuss the T-shirts.
The New York Civil Liberties Union criticized the judge’s ruling. “This is just another example of how recent Supreme Court rulings are undermining constitutional rights in general and First Amendment rights in particular,” said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Read more…