The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor of a former teacher from Vancouver, Washington, finding that his First Amendment-protected speech consisted of wearing a hat in support of former President Donald Trump to school.
According to court records, science instructor Eric Dodge visited an Evergreen Public Schools building twice before the 2019–2020 academic year while wearing the “Make America Great Again” baseball cap.
According to The Columbian. The first time was a workshop on racial bias and cultural sensitivity for staff alone.
The district failed to provide proof of a “tangible disturbance” to school operations required to outweigh the teacher’s First Amendment rights, the appeals panel said in a Dec. 29 decision, the court declared.
According to Judge Danielle J. Forrest’s judgment, “that some may not agree with the political message being expressed is par for the course and cannot by itself be a basis for finding disruption of a nature that overrides the speaker’s First Amendment rights.”
There are some notable exceptions to the country’s commitment to free speech.
The Oregonian/OregonLive quoted Stephen Kanter, a first amendment specialist and dean emeritus at Lewis & Clark Law School, saying, “There is hate speech, there is threatening speech, but a MAGA hat falls far short of that.”
Caroline Garret, the principal of Wy’east Middle School, allegedly advised him to exercise better discretion. Dodge said that after wearing the hat once more, he was “verbally abused” by Garret and other school workers, violating his First Amendment rights.
The appeals panel also determined that Janae Gomes, the top human resources officer at Evergreen Public Schools, and Dodge were not subjected to inappropriate administrative action.
The Oregonian/OregonLive was unable to contact Dodge or Garrett for comment.
The school district and Gomes’s attorney, Michael McFarland, said his clients are pleased with the decision.
In 2020, Dodge resigned.