Last Thursday Carmine Coyote at mentioned in his post Barriers to Creating Work/Life Balance,

It seems that that old demon, an over-developed work ethic, together with peer pressure and fears of losing out on raises and promotions prevent many people from taking any action to improve the way they organize their lives between work and other demands. And that’s without the additional problem of hostile bosses and negative workplace cultures.

In addition to workplace policy and culture we may now add overreaching bureaucracy into your free time as well. Today Stephen Murmer, a high school art teacher, who had been placed on administrative leave, was fired for his off-hours work. Outside of work Mr. Murmer was for lack of a better term, a “butt-printing artist.” You can get an idea of what that means in the following segment.

Despite what many would consider protected First Amendment Free Speech, the Chesterfield County School Board (Richmond, VA) feels that his actions were inappropriate.

A spokeswoman says the Chesterfield County School Board reasoned that students have a right to receive their education in an environment free from distractions and disruptions. She says the decision also is in keeping with court rulings that teachers are expected to lead by example and be role models.

I can understand a community’s desire to protect their children from potential threats. I’m amazed they were able to fire a teacher without stiff union backlash. Two things trouble me: 1) public institutions trying to instill civic values ignoring the Constitution and 2) this is not isolated to the classroom.

Of course we all know the rules, you can’t yell fire in a theater and you can’t say bomb in an airport, unless you like to get close and personal with the TSA. But how far can employers go in deciding what you do with your free time (what little some of us get)? We are already seeing cases where people are being fired for smoking or being overweight. This method of paternalism has been spreading further into local laws as in the case of New York’s ban on smoking and trans fat.

Many of these rules seem based on the concept that “if I own a company I should be able to hire (or fire) anyone for any reason to my advantage (or detriment).” Given the healthcare costs associated with smoking and, I can certainly understand the desire to limit the expenditure. One must consider however, the foundation of a globalized service economy is great employees. What happens to that foundation when the best person for the job happens to smoke at lunch, or supersize their fries, or in this case make art with their butt?