Officer Can Be Constitutionally Forbidden From Participating In Explorer Scout Activities

Mark Frontera is a police officer with the City of Columbus, Ohio. Beginning in 1998, Frontera volunteered with the Explorer Scouts program. In 2004, the Department received a complaint that Frontera had acted inappropriately in his role as Explorer Scout advisor. The charges against Frontera included that he had allowed an Explorer Scout to spend the night at his home, that he failed to obey written orders with respect to the Explorer Scout program, and that he had engaged in acts of sexual harassment involving Explorer members. Though the charge against Frontera eventually did not result in discipline, the Department ordered him to not have any further contact with the Explorer Scout program. The Department’s order specifically forbid Frontera from attending Explorer Scout functions.

Frontera brought a lawsuit against the Department alleging that the order violated his right of free association under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. A federal trial court dismissed Frontera’s complaint.

The Court found that the right of free association extended to two aspects of protected activity: The right to “enter into and maintain certain intimate human relationships, and the right to associate for the purposes of engaging in freedom of speech, assembly, petition for the redress of grievances, and the exercise of religion.”

The Court found that it could not “find a cognizable basis from which to determine that Frontera’s association with the Explorer Post or his friendship with an Explorer scout was the sort of ‘intimate human relationship’ that the Constitution was designed to protect. Similarly, Frontera cites no legal authorities which have found a constitutional right of association as it relates to continued participation in a police-sponsored volunteer-based Explorer program, or to associate on a social level with members and advisors of the Post, when such organization has expelled him from participation. Frontera simply has failed to point to any authority for the proposition that he has an absolute right to continued association with the group.”

Frontera v. City of Columbus, 2008 WL 5377960 (S.D.Ohio 2008).

This article appears in the February 2009 issue