Prank Photo at Tomb of Unknowns Raises Free Speech Questions

A photo at the Arlington National Cemetery led to calls for a woman's firing.

Nov. 21, 2012 — -- Lindsey Stone, a non-profit employee in Massachusetts, posted a photo on her Facebook page she claims she meant as a joke among friends. Little did she know that thousands of people would be offended by her pose in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns, even creating a Facebook page called, "Fire Lindsey Stone."

And sure enough when her employer found out, she was put on unpaid leave pending an internal investigation.

Stone's photo shows her flipping off a sign and appearing to shout at the tomb in Washington, D.C., that asks for "Silence and Respect" at the Arlington National Cemetery. Stone and her co-workers were on a work trip last month when the photo was taken.

After people posted comments critical of Stone, she posted: "Whoa whoa whoa... wait. This is just us, being the douchebags that we are, challenging authority in general. Much like the pic posted the night before, of me smoking right next to a no smoking sign. OBVIOUSLY we meant NO disrespect to people that serve or have served our country."

Stone, who is around 30-years-old, could not be reached for comment.

Over 18,000 people have "liked" the "Fire Lindsey Stone" Facebook page, which was created earlier this week.

The National Labor Relations Board has issued two recent rulings saying a company's social media policy can be "overly broad" but also stating that social media postings are not protected under federal labor law.

Robert Johnson, army veteran and military and defense editor at news site, Business Insider, wrote an op-ed, saying he felt "compelled to defend her."

"More importantly, if Lindsey Stone wants to rip on the Tomb of the Unknowns, me, my service, or the hundreds of mutilated troops I served with at Walter Reed Medical Center, she should be able to do so without fear of retribution," Johnson wrote. "Freedom like that is what we fought for, and respecting other opinions is part of what the militray tried to teach all of us who served."

Stone and another employee issued an apology on Wednesday, saying, "We sincerely apologize for all the pain we have caused by posting the picture we took in Washington DC on Facebook. While posted on a public forum, the picture was intended only for our own amusement. We never meant any disrespect to any of the people nationwide who have served this country and defended our freedom so valiantly. It was meant merely as a visual pun, intending to depict the exact opposite of what the sign said, and had absolutely nothing to do with the location it was taken or the people represented there."

Read more: Soldiers Guard the Tomb of Unknowns During Hurricane Sandy

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for her employer, LIFE, Inc., which stands for Living Independently Forever, said Stone is still on unpaid leave, pending an investigation. The non-profit stands by a statement issued this week:

"On Nov. 19 at approximately 6 p.m., we became aware that one of our employees had posted an offensive, inappropriate photograph on her personal Facebook page. The photo was taken at a national historic site in October by a fellow employee during a trip to Washington, D.C. attended by 40 residents and eight staff. The photo has since been removed from Facebook, and both employees have been placed on unpaid leave pending the results of an internal investigation."

"This photograph in no way reflects the opinions or values of the LIFE organization, which holds our nation's veterans in the highest regard. We are proud to have veterans serving on our staff and board of trustees, and we value their service. The men and women who have selflessly fought and sacrificed their lives to protect the rights and lives of Americans deserve our utmost respect and gratitude. We are acutely aware that this photo has done a grave disservice to veterans and we are deeply saddened that it was taken and shared in a public medium."

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