ACLU slams 'ideological purity' test for government employees

A former border guard who says he was fired for suggesting to a co-worker that marijuana should be legalized has filed a lawsuit against the US Border Patrol.

In documents (PDF) filed in a federal court in west Texas last week, Bryan Gonzalez alleged that he lost his job in 2009 after telling a colleague on the Mexican border that he believed legalizing marijuana could reduce drug war violence.

Gonzalez was issued a termination letter stating that he was fired because he "held personal views that were contrary to the core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication and esprit de corps," according to the lawsuit.

The border guard's firing has drawn the attention of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an organization of current and former law enforcement agents who are fighting to end the war on drugs.

"Whether you think we should legalize drugs or not, you have to support the right of brave law enforcers like Bryan Gonzalez to exercise the First Amendment and share their views on policies that impact them on a daily basis," Terry Nelson, a former border patrol agent and current LEAP board member, said in a statement.

In an exclusive interview, Gonzalez told Raw Story he was questioned by Customs and Border Patrol's Office of Internal Affairs -- a confrontation that felt more to him like an "interrogation."

"I was asked if I wanted to overthrow the American government," he said. "I was asked if I was a socialist."

But his only transgression was to say that legalizing marijuana would "eliminate a lot of unnecessary deaths."

Estimates pointed to more than 28,000 people who've died since Mexico's then-President Felipe Calderon declared a war on the country's drug cartels in 2006 -- a war many observers said the Mexican government was losing.

Gonzalez called his firing "very un-American," adding he believes the Border Patrol has "many good people" who "have the right to speak their mind."

The New Mexico branch of the ACLU has stepped in to aid Gonzalez' lawsuit.

"Firing a public servant because of their political opinions is an egregious violation of the First Amendment," Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU's New Mexico branch, said in an email.

"We cannot require nor should we expect uniformity of thought within our law enforcement institutions," he continued. "Purging the ranks of government employees who fail 'ideological purity' tests is about as un-American as it gets."

ACLU spokesman Micah McCoy added that the incident "is pretty indicative of the general culture" at Customs and Border Protection, the agency that runs the US Border Patrol.

In an earlier case, LEAP speaker Jonathan Wender sued police in Mountlake Terrace, Washington after having been fired for declaring the war on drugs a failure. The police department settled out of court in 2009, reinstating Wender with back pay.