Lindsey Stone, a 30-year old employee at a nonprofit organization in Massachusetts that assists adults with learning disabilities, was on a work-related trip to Washington DC and while there her supervisor took a photograph of her near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier making a mocking gesture. She then (as has now become almost obligatory) posted the photo on her Facebook page.
That photo went viral and resulted in angry emails and calls to her employer by people offended that she had disrespected the military. The employer in response issued an apology and promptly fired her and the supervisor who took the photo, even though Stone had been previously classed as a ‘good employee’. (Note how this news report has blacked out the offending finger, a sensitivity that puzzles me.)
To be clear, this is not a free speech issue. No one was preventing Stone from publishing the photo on her Facebook page and her employer presumably has the right to fire her for creating unwanted publicity for a company that depends on public goodwill.
What it is interesting is how total strangers reacted so strongly to what was essentially a gag photo, simply because the butt of the joke was the military, and demanded that she be actually fired from her job. It reminds me of the tourists in Sri Lanka who were threatened with jail for taking a gag photo involving a statue of the Buddha. They were charged with “wounding the religious feelings of Buddhists”.
As a result of this, Stone and her supervisor may find it hard to find new work despite issuing an apology. That seems rather a high price to demand for a gag photo.