Nevada Congressman Gets Student Suspended For Exercising Free Speech


Following the National School Walkout on March 14, Noah Christiansen, a 17 year old student at McQueen High School in Reno, NV was given a two-day suspension for calling his congressman and exercising his First Amendment rights, complete with the f-word.

The Washington Post covered Christiansen’s exact words in more detail,

“I just said, ‘I believe bump stocks should be banned, the minimum age should be raised, and Congress people not already asking should get off their f-ing asses and do something about gun control.’ ”
Christiansen would later blame himself, somewhat, for not being more polite in the heat of the moment. “I’m smart enough to use better words than, of course, the f-word,” he told the Nevada Independent. “But at the same time, even if I do want to use words, and use them over and over again, it’s my right to do so.”

Rep. Amodei, who cosponsored a bill in 2011 to loosen the regulations on interstate gun sales, says that neither he nor the staffer asked explicitly for the student to be punished, even though it is hard to imagine why else they would share the details of a private phone call with Christensen’s high school principal. Amodei then defended the staffer’s decision to complain about the student, saying “welcome to the world where words have impact.”

The ACLU sent a letter to the NRA endorsed congressman asking for an apology for infringing on one of his own constituents First Amendment rights. Tod Story, Executive Director of the Nevada ACLU, explained their position in a statement on their website.

“It is unbelievable that a constituent should have to worry about calling a congressional office to share their opinions because your congressman’s office might retaliate against you by reporting you to your school or place of employment. The retaliation by Congressman Amodei’s office is a betrayal of the First Amendment and of the representative process.”

Amodei has not officially responded yet, but did say to The Nevada Independent, “[The ACLU] were pretty passionate and correct in terms describing this guy’s First Amendment rights, but…I think those apply to my guy too,” referring to the staffer which made the phone call getting Christiansen suspended.

While no doubt the staffer is also protected under the First Amendment, Story clarified the failure of that counter-argument in another statement Thursday night.

“While congressional staffers do have First Amendment rights, they do not have rights to retaliate against constituents by exposing their confidential conversations and communications. Every constituent petitions the government with an expectation of privacy, if their opinion is to be made public, that choice is the constituents to make, not the Congressman’s or his staff’s. The oath the congressman swore to uphold applies to every constituent, not just the ones with whom he agrees. If Congressman Amodei does not believe constituent communications are private and confidential, his constituents should take heed.”

It is interesting that if you leave in the profanity but remove the part of Christiansen’s phone call that mentions gun control – his call for Congress to do something is wildly uncontroversial. No matter which polling data you look at it, it is clear that in a country polarized on all issues, the one thing democrats and republicans can agree on – is their absolute contempt for Congress. Time Magazine examined the data following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and the subsequent CNN town hall in which Marco Rubio refused to pledge to stop taking money from the NRA.

In red, blue or purple states, in middle America or on the coasts, most Americans loathe the nation’s legislature. One big reason: Most think lawmakers are listening to all the wrong people, suggests a new study by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California-Santa Barbara with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research…the AP-NORC Center found that 85 percent of Americans, including 89 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Republicans, disapprove of the job Congress is doing. That might matter in this midterm election year, as Republicans defend their majorities in the House and Senate.

So Saturday, March 24th, as MarchForOurLives, spring up in D.C. and around the country, perhaps other students, and adults will call their representatives in Congress and share their overwhelming displeasure or try to motivate them to action before November rolls around.

Amodei, who is up for reelection this year, told The Nevada Independent, “We’re still getting calls, mostly from out of state, saying mean things to us, but, you know what, some days that comes with the job.”

Help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work in 2018 by visiting the Rewards Zone, making a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!