A Facebook posting containing derogatory and inflammatory statements against Muslims has cost a Fryeburg Academy lacrosse coach his job.

Scott Lees, who had coached boy’s lacrosse at Fryeburg Academy since 2011, resigned on March 19, a few days before school leaders planned to meet with and fire him, Head of Schools Erin Mayo said.

The message, originally written by a Michigan Republican over a year ago, was styled as an open missive to President Obama, and claimed that Muslims have not contributed to American society and culture. It also accused Muslims of supporting human slavery, being absent during the American civil rights movement, and being silent on and encouraging of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Numerous media outlets seized on Lees’ resignation, first reported in a New Hampshire newspaper, as a case of free speech rights being suppressed. Some online commentators characterized it as an example of a liberal institution’s aversion to the truth.

Mayo said she respects Lees’s First Amendment rights, but that doesn’t change the school’s responsibility to uphold its core beliefs and standards against discriminatory practices.

“Even if we didn’t have a policy speaking to online behavior, we’d make and defend this decision,” Mayo said in a written statement. “Our mission isn’t served and our learning environment isn’t protected if we employ people who’ve publicly slammed a whole class of people to whom any (number) of our students or staff belong.”

The message first came to the attention of a Fryeburg Academy administrator who was friends with Lees on Facebook, Mayo said. The school asked Lees to remove the post, and he complied, resigning shortly thereafter, Mayo said.

A message left by the Press Herald for Lees was not immediately returned, but in an interview with the Conway Daily Sun newspaper in Conway, New Hampshire, Lees denied being a bigot, and said he once had a Muslim lacrosse player stay at his house for several days.

“I thought it was an interesting letter to President Obama and his current administration who are not paying attention to Israel and focusing on Iran,” Lees told the newspaper.

He told the paper that the letter was emailed to him by a friend and that he posted it to see what people would say. Lees said he did not make any of his own comments on it, and that he meant no disrespect to anyone.

“I would have done anything,” Lees said. “That job meant the world to me. I lived year-round for that job.”

Lees was a contract employee of Fryeburg Academy earning a few thousand dollars per season. Although Lees told the Conway Daily Sun there was never any restrictions from the school on what teachers can do on personal Facebook accounts, Mayo said Lees signed such a policy last season laying out rules and guidelines for staff online conduct.

ACADEMY’S SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY

Fryeburg Academy’s social media and online communications policy recommends staff and faculty be careful with their postings, and maintain minimal contact with students online.

“Always pause to reflect on what you are about to post or publish,” the policy says. “Is it something you would post on a billboard along the highway?”

Zachary Heiden, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said the case does not appear to raise any obvious constitutional issues, because the First Amendment protects only against government censorship, and Fryeburg Academy is a private school.

Had Lees’ dismissal come from a public school, his speech might have been protected, but the line between a teacher’s private rights to speech and a school’s responsibility to provide an environment free of discrimination is less clear, Heiden said.

“One of the issues that the courts have tried to parse is whether the speech is something that a person is doing as a part of their job, or is it speech that they’re engaging in as a private citizen,” Heiden said. “What a teacher says in front of a classroom, versus what a teachers writes in a letter to the editor of a newspaper, courts treat that differently.”

Teachers are not the only people whose social media activity can have repercussions on their professional lives.

Last month, similar anti-Muslim Facebook posts cost a Maine lawmaker his committee chairmanship. Sen. Mike Willette, R-Presque Isle, apologized on the Senate floor for a post that criticized Obama’s handling of the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIS, and suggested Obama would deal with the group “at the family reunion.”

The text that Lees posted was originally written by a Republican National Committee member from Michigan, Dave Agema, in January 2014. The letter contains a myriad of rhetorical questions, some that are perplexing, while others are factually incorrect or unknowable.

“Can you show me one Muslim signature on the United States Constitution? Declaration of Independence? Bill of Rights? Didn’t think so,” one line reads. “Where were Muslims during the Civil Rights era of this country? Not present. There are no pictures or media accounts of Muslims walking side by side with Martin Luther King Jr. or helping to advance the cause of Civil Rights.”

Agema’s letter also questioned, falsely, why there are no Muslim hospitals, orchestras or charities, among other things. There are, in fact, Muslim physicians’ groups, musical organizations and charities.