A federal appeals court has ruled that a public school teacher was within his rights to wear a “Make America Great Again” hat to two faculty training sessions.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that science teacher Eric Dodge was protected by the First Amendment right to free speech with his choice of headgear.
Dodge, then a science teacher at Wy’east Middle School in Vancouver, Washington, wore the bright red “MAGA” hat — commonly associated with supporters of then-President Donald Trump — to a two-day cultural sensitivity training session in August 2019, according to The Columbian.
“He took off his MAGA cap upon entering the training but left it visible on his desk,” OregonLive reported.
Dodge said the principal of the school, Caroline Garrett, told him that “the professor leading the session felt ‘intimidated and traumatized’” by his actions and she asked him to use “better judgment,” according to The Columbian.
Dodge said he was “verbally attacked” by Garrett and other school employees after bringing the hat to the staff meeting a second time.
OregonLive said Garrett called Dodge a “racist” and a “homophobe.”
Fox News said Dodge’s lawyers argued that the school had no prohibitions against political speech at the time.
In fact, “Garrett allowed a Black Lives Matter poster to hang in the library and sported a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker on her car,” the report said.
The incident prompted Dodge to file a lawsuit alleging that the treatment he received constituted retaliation that violated his First Amendment right to free speech, according to The Columbian.
After losing the first round of his federal case, the three-member 9th Circuit panel ruled that “wearing the hat was speech protected by the U.S. Constitution and evidence that some faculty members were offended was not enough to override Dodge’s free-speech rights,” Reuters reported.
“That some may not like the political message being conveyed is par for the course and cannot itself be a basis for finding disruption of a kind that outweighs the speaker’s First Amendment rights,” Judge Danielle J. Forrest wrote in the opinion.
Fox News reported that the judges found that “the school district failed to show evidence of a ‘tangible disruption’ to school operations.”
Unlike other, similar court cases, Fox News reported, the appeals court also ruled that “since Dodge did not wear the hat around students or in a classroom setting, his decision to wear the hat represented his beliefs alone and could not represent the school system.”
Dodge v. Evergreen School D… by The Western Journal
The appeals court barred Dodge from suing the Evergreen School District for dismissing a harassment complaint against the principal and a human resources official, Reuters reported.
That news outlet quoted Evergreen attorney Michael McFarland as saying the school district was pleased with the decision, but attorneys for Dodge and Garrett did not provide comments.
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