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Michigan attorney general defends employee's right to blog

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Cox: Shirvell offensive, but job is safe
  • Cox calls Shirvell a 'bully,' but defends his right to free speech
  • Blog criticizes openly gay student assembly president
  • Assistant attorney general says he posts on his blog during off-work hours

(CNN) -- Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox defended an assistant's constitutional right to wage an Internet campaign against an openly gay college student, even though he considers that employee a "bully."

"Here in America, we have this thing called the First Amendment, which allows people to express what they think and engage in political and social speech," Cox told Anderson Cooper on CNN's "AC 360" on Wednesday night. "He's clearly a bully ... but is that protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution? Yes."

"Mr. [Andrew] Shirvell is sort of a frontline grunt assistant prosecutor in my office," Cox said. "He does satisfactory work and off-hours, he's free to engage under both our civil service rules, Michigan Supreme Court rulings and the United States Supreme Court rule."

For nearly six months, Shirvell, an assistant attorney general for the state of Michigan, has blogged about college student Chris Armstrong, an openly gay student assembly president at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

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Shirvell launched his blog in late April using the online moniker "Concerned Michigan Alumnus."

"Welcome to 'Chris Armstrong Watch,'" Shirvell wrote in his inaugural blog post. "This is a site for concerned University of Michigan alumni, students and others who oppose the recent election of Chris Armstrong -- a RADICAL HOMOSEXUAL ACTIVIST, RACIST, ELITIST, & LIAR -- as the new head of student government."

Among other things, Shirvell has published blog posts that accuse Armstrong of going back on a campaign promise he made to minority students; engaging in "flagrant sexual promiscuity" with another male member of the student government; sexually seducing and influencing "a previously conservative [male] student" so much so that the student, according to Shirvell, "morphed into a proponent of the radical homosexual agenda;" hosting a gay orgy in his dorm room in October 2009; and trying to recruit incoming first-year students "to join the homosexual 'lifestyle.'"

In a written statement from his office on Tuesday, Cox distanced his office from Shirvell's comments.

"Mr. Shirvell's personal opinions are his and his alone, and do not reflect the views of the Michigan Department of Attorney General," Cox said in the written statement provided by his office Tuesday night. "But his immaturity and lack of judgment outside the office are clear."

Shirvell said he works on the blog during his off-hours.

On "AC 360" on Tuesday, Shirvell made no apologies for his blog postings, which include a picture of Armstrong with "Resign" written over his face. The same picture also had a swastika superimposed over a gay pride flag, with an arrow pointing toward Armstrong.

Shirvell acknowledged protesting outside of Armstrong's house and calling him "Satan's representative on the student assembly."

"I'm a Christian citizen exercising my First Amendment rights," Shirvell told Cooper. "I have no problem with the fact that Chris is a homosexual. I have a problem with the fact that he's advancing a radical homosexual agenda."

Armstrong has supported gender-neutral housing at the university for transgender students who haven't had sexual reassignment surgery.

Armstrong told CNN he has hired an attorney and is pursuing legal action against Shirvell.

CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin says Armstrong may have grounds for a harassment case.

CNN's Martina Stewart and Ed Payne contributed to this report.

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