One sunny Saturday last fall, I hopped on my bike and headed out for a ride near my home in Virginia. President Trump decided to spend some time outdoors that day, too, at the golf course he owns, not far from my biking route. Our paths crossed on Lowes Island Boulevard. As his motorcade sped by, I extended my middle finger in a brief and almost reflexive expression of my frustration with his mean-spirited and narrow-minded politics.
Three days later, I lost my job.
A wire service photographer covering Trump captured the gesture, and a Voice of America reporter posted the photo online. It went viral. The next evening, I used the photo as the background on my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts, neither of which mentioned where I worked. But after the weekend, I did let my employer, Akima, know that I was the cyclist in the picture.
While acknowledging that the First Amendment protected my right to extend my middle finger, my boss told me that “corporate protection” dictated that he terminate me on the grounds of a social-media policy that prohibits “obscene” or “inappropriate” content. Akima does business with the government, and company executives obviously feared that the administration would (unconstitutionally) penalize my employer for my gesture. So, that Tuesday, they forced me out.