New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has suspended the Correction Department’s top chaplain for two weeks in connection with remarks he made about the White House being occupied by terrorists, according to the New York Times. The mayor acknowledged that the words were “inappropriate and offensive,” but he also offered a vigorous defense of the right to free speech. The chaplain, Umar Abdul-Jalil, asserted in a speech to Muslim students in Tucson last April that “the greatest terrorists in the world occupy the White House” and made a comment about what he called “the Zionists of the media.” Bloomberg said the chaplain brought discredit to the department by failing to make clear that he was speaking only for himself. The mayor said the content of the speech was not the cause of the suspension.
New York correction commissioner Martin Horn concluded that Abdul-Jalil violated two departmental rules. He failed to tell his audience that he was speaking as a private citizen and not as a city official and by not doing so, broke another rule prohibiting “conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the department.” The departmental rule requiring employees to make clear that their public statements reflect “solely the employee’s opinions” appears to apply only to speech “regarding department policies or operations.” Abdul-Jalil referred to his work at the Correction Department and criticized the high incarceration rate in the country, but he did not claim to be speaking for the department.