LANSING, Mich. — An assistant attorney general is using his personal blog to target the openly gay leader of the University of Michigan’s student assembly, calling him a racist with a “radical homosexual agenda.’’ The lawyer said that when he’s not at work, he has the right to say whatever he wants.
But the vociferous criticism has raised questions of just how far a civil servant can go, and whether Andrew Shirvell’s online attacks — which include putting a swastika over a gay pride flag in a photo of 21-year-old Chris Armstrong — should affect his job.
So far, Attorney General Mike Cox says no. Cox called Shirvell immature and his blog posts “distasteful,’’ but said he has the right to free speech. But Cox said he was troubled that the 30-year-old lawyer videotaped police breaking up a party at Armstrong’s off-campus home in Ann Arbor over Labor Day weekend.
“Part of the video is being outside this young man’s house at 1:30 on a Sunday morning. Clearly, I wouldn’t recommend that to any state employee to be doing,’’ Cox said Thursday. “That being said . . . it’s not something where I can walk in one day and say, ‘I don’t like what he has on there, let’s broom him.’ He has First Amendment protections.’’
Shirvell went on personal leave Thursday and is subject to a disciplinary hearing when he returns, Cox spokesman John Sellek said yesterday.
Personnel rules restricted Sellek from saying if Shirvell was on leave because of the outcry.
Shirvell posted the video on his blog, called Chris Armstrong Watch, which he began in April. In the Sept. 5 posting, he accused Armstrong of hosting the party with the intent to “liquor-up underage freshmen and promote homosexual activity in an effort to recruit them to the homosexual lifestyle.’’
Shirvell has repeatedly called on Armstrong to resign.
He has criticized Armstrong’s friends and put their Facebook postings on his blog.
The university on Thursday banned Shirvell from campus, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 2002, saying he was targeting the elected student body president “in a reprehensible manner.’’
“As a community, we must not and will not accept displays of intolerance,’’ said Mary Sue Coleman, the college president.
Shirvell didn’t respond to phone and e-mail messages Thursday.
But he told CNN on Tuesday that he regards his anti-Armstrong push as a political campaign, not a personal attack.