VANCOUVER, Wash. — The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a former teacher in Vancouver, Washington, concluding that wearing a hat to support former President Donald Trump at school was protected by the First Amendment.
Court documents show science teacher Eric Dodge wore the “Make America Great Again” baseball cap to an Evergreen Public Schools building twice before the 2019-2020 school year. the columbian reported. The first occasion was for a training on cultural sensitivity and racial bias for staff only.
Wy’east High School’s principal, Caroline Garrett, allegedly told him to use better judgement. Dodge said Garrett and other school employees “verbally attacked” him after he brought the hat back, and that the retaliation amounted to a violation of his First Amendment rights.
The appeals panel concluded in a Dec. 29 ruling that the district failed to show evidence of a “tangible disruption” in school operations necessary to overcome the teacher’s First Amendment rights, the court ruled.
“Dislikes by some of the political message being conveyed is normal and cannot in itself be a basis for finding an interruption of a type that would override the speaker’s First Amendment rights,” Judge Danielle J. Forrest wrote. in opinion.
The country’s freedom of expression has important exceptions. “There is hate speech, there is threatening speech,” said First Amendment expert and dean emeritus of Lewis & Clark Law School Stephen Kanter, saying The Oregonian/OregonLive, “but a MAGA hat is a long way from that.”
The appeals panel also found that both Evergreen Public Schools and Human Resources Director Janae Gomes did not take any inappropriate administrative action against Dodge.
Neither Dodge nor Garrett could be reached by The Oregonian/OregonLive for comment.
Michael McFarland, an attorney representing the school district and Gomes, said his clients are happy with the ruling.
Dodge stepped down in 2020.