Justin M. Rughe may be a jackass, but he’s not a jackass in any official capacity.

The Lompoc Economic Development Committee member is in trouble for sending letters to south coast newspapers, stating that “Muslims are out to destroy our world.” Several newspapers, including the Nexus, published Rughe’s letter. In it, Rughe went on to say the United States is engaged in a war with Muslims and that “they do not deserve any quarter from us.”

All in all, it was a nasty little letter, full of hate boiled by a lukewarm intellect. It was also perfectly legal and in no way connected to his job with the city of Lompoc.

Lompoc City Council member Jan Keller wants to fire Rughe because she found his letter offensive. She says she doesn’t want anyone with views like Mr. Rughe’s advising her and the city of Lompoc.

The problem is, Rughe is not advising the city of Lompoc on foreign policy, history or religion. His views on Muslims, vile though they may be, have squat to do with his job: advising Lompoc on its economic development.

Rughe did not sign his letters as a Lompoc Economic Development Committee member. He didn’t even write it on city stationery. He wrote it as a private citizen, and he should not be punished for it.

Government employees, like other Americans, are entitled to their opinions. Even if their opinions are awful, they can have them so long as those opinions don’t interfere with their work.

If a government employee imposes irrelevant, hateful opinions on his job, he should be punished. Take, for instance, Santa Barbara County Administrator Mike Brown. Brown returns to work today, after two weeks of unpaid leave, courtesy of the Board of Supervisors. The Sups suspended Brown for saying, at a retreat for county employees, that all Muslims (“they”) are out to get Americans (“us”). When someone suggested that maybe not all Muslims were bloodthirsty anti-Americans, Brown replied that was “bunk.”

Brown’s remarks were hardly private. He was giving a speech as part of his job. It was supposed to be about the county.

Brown is lucky he didn’t get fired and was instead sentenced to unpaid leave and sensitivity training.

There’s an important difference between Brown’s bigotry and Rughe’s: Brown, a prominent official, brought his private opinions into his official life. Rughe, a minor official, did not.

Rughe may be a crackpot who scribbles out hate-filled letters and sends them to newspapers, but it doesn’t have anything to do with his job.

Even jackasses are entitled to their opinions.