The teacher as exemplar and role model has always been a concern of the public. From the days of the late 19th to early 20th century where teachers were forbidden to be married and had strict rules regarding their attire and conduct, to the 21st century digital world where teacher websites are examined, this topic is still a controversial one when it comes to parents and community sentiment. As is often the case, emotions come into play and people who might themselves engage in questionable activities/practices expect something quite different from teachers. The First Amendment guarantees United States citizens the right of free speech, but is this right applied differently to teachers? With regard to the legal ramifications of teacher as exemplar it is often the First Amendment right of free speech that has become the tenet used to protect teachers from dismissal or other punitive action.
In the past it was commonly believed "that public employees, which includes teachers, had a limited right to freedom of expression." (183) However after the heightened awareness paid to civil rights in the 1960's, and a more receptive federal judiciary, this belief changed. In 1892, in a decision written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Supreme Court took the stand that it could use a public employee's speech as grounds for dismissal. This decision became known as the right/privilege distinction. This right/privilege distinction was upheld as late as 1952 when in Adler v. Board of Education the Court stated, "[public employees] have a constitutional right to say and think as [they] will, but [they] have no constitutional right to work for the government." However, in 1967 the Court changed its view, asserting that the Court can not do indirectly that which it can not do directly. The Court took the position that public employment cannot be conditioned on a surrender of constitutional rights.