NEWPORT — A state board on Friday dismissed two licensing complaints that were filed last year against a Nokomis High School guidance counselor because of his appearance in a television ad opposing gay marriage.

The complaints against Don Mendell of Palmyra were filed just before voters repealed the state’s same-sex marriage law in November. Both claimed that Mendell had violated the social workers’ professional code of ethics by publicly supporting the repeal.

Doug Dunbar, spokesman for the state Office of Licensing & Registration, confirmed Friday that the complaints had been dismissed.

“The board found there wasn’t adequate evidence of a violation,” he said, “so they found it wasn’t adequate for a disciplinary action.”

Mendell, contacted at home, said he attended the licensing hearing Friday morning and the vote to dismiss the complaints was 2-1. He said the decision was satisfying and a relief.

“This has been difficult, to have this kind of threatening feeling of my livelihood, my licensing to practice social work being in peril because I participated in the referendum, the political system,” Mendell said. “So, it feels like vindication, not just for me, but for any person who wants to fully participate in the democratic system. People should hopefully take this as a sort of civics lesson that free speech is precious and we all have that right.”

Mendell has been represented by lawyers from The Alliance Defense Fund, a national organization that specializes in “legal defense and advocacy of religious freedom.”

In a statement, the organization said the licensing board was right to dismiss the complaint because “the government should not punish people because they believe that marriage is defined as one man and one woman, and because they say so during a political campaign.”

“The First Amendment,” said Jordan Lorence, who represented Mendell, “protects the rights of citizens to speak out on important public policy matters being voted on by the people. State governments around our nation license many professions. Holding a professional license should not permit the state to punish those who publicly advocate for marriage as one man and one woman.”

Mendell appeared in a TV commercial in support of Question 1, which repealed the gay-marriage law, after Nokomis High’s literacy coach Sherri Gould appeared in a commercial, identified as 2005 Teacher of the Year, in opposition to the repeal.

In his commercial, Mendell referred to Gould as a “gay activist already pushing this type of agenda” and asked viewers to vote yes on Question 1 “to prevent homosexual marriage from being pushed on Maine students.”

The first complaint against Mendell was filed on Oct. 19 by Ann Sullivan, a social worker at Newport Elementary School. Citing Mendell’s role in the commercial, the complaint sought to revoke his license because “he does not have the right as a licensed social worker to make public comments that can endanger or promote discrimination.”

Sullivan’s complaint said Mendell was “entitled to his own personal opinion” but he didn’t have the right to make such comments as a licensed social worker. The complaint went on to quote negative reactions from unnamed students.

A second complaint was filed on Oct. 30 by Jennifer Jones, a licensed clinical social worker from Augusta.

Efforts to reach Sullivan and Jones late Friday were not successful.

Mendell said the dismissal of the complaints gives him courage to “continue to speak out if I feel undue pressures are put on kids.

“I’m speaking out that I do believe in equal rights of children to have a mother and father, if at all possible,” he said. “And I will take stands against things that I feel threaten children from having access to a mother and father, especially if that’s going to be taught in schools to minors.”


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