The ACLU of Southern California sent a letter to the Kern County Board of Supervisors on June 25 urging that body to terminate County Human Relations Commissioner Douglas Hearn for making anti-gay remarks at commission meetings that the ACLU says make it impossible for the Human Relations Commission to fulfill its stated purpose to, "promote and safeguard the equal rights of and respect for all people within Kern County."
ACLU staff attorney Taylor Flynn sent the letter to all supervisors expressing concern that Hearn's public remarks at commission meetings directly undermine the ability of the Kern County Human Relations Commission to enforce state anti-discrimination laws and the commission's own purposes. In the letter, Ms. Flynn clarified that the First Amendment does not protect the comments of public officials which counter the expressed purpose of the agencies they serve.
"Commissioner Hearn's statements have been defended by members of the Board of Supervisors on the ground that his statements are protected under the First Amendment. This is incorrect. As the United States Supreme Court has long held, when a public official makes statements in his official capacity that are inconsistent with his official duties, those statements are not protected by the First Amendment. In fact, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed precisely this issuea San Francisco Human Rights commissioner had made anti-gay statements and then claimed that his statements were protected by the First Amendmenta claim which the court flatly rejected."
As reported in the June 4 issue of the Bakersfield Californian, "At a Human Relations Commission meeting held May 12, commissioner Douglas Hearn said homosexuals are `sick' and that he wouldn't want a gay teacher teaching his child, comments that were heard by James Merrick, a local teacher who attended the meeting because he was interested in joining the commission. The statements were confirmed by Hearn himself, who later elaborated on his opinions. `Any homosexual in my mind is sick,' he said. `I know those people are sick and I'll stand on that."
Kern County Supervisor Jon McQuiston, who appointed Hearn, defended his appointee, a Baptist minister. As reported in the June 10 edition of the Bakersfield Californian, "Hearn based his opinion on his religious beliefs, McQuiston said, and the commission sand the commission should tolerate members with differing beliefs."
But Taylor Flynn admonished the Board to, "acknowledge its obligation to remove Mr. Hearn from the Human Rights Commissiona public body which distributes flyers to encourage members of the gay and lesbian community to come to the Commission with reports of anti-gay violence and intolerance...The simple fact is that there is no possibility that the Human Rights Commission can effectively enforce the state's anti-discrimination laws while Mr. Hearn continues to serve as a commissioner."