Court rules teacher who wore MAGA hat to school training sessions protected under 1A

A former Washington teacher named Eric Dodge has been vindicated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District that ruled his wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat to school training sessions was protected speech under the First Amendment.

The Vancouver, Washington Wy’east Middle School science teacher, who has been an educator for more than 17 years, wore the hat honoring former President Trump to an Evergreen Public Schools building while attending a staff-only cultural sensitivity and racial bias training session.

Dodge did not wear the hat during the training. It was set next to his belongings where others could see it and they evidently took offense to it. Some woke attendees laughably claimed they felt “intimidated” and “threatened” by the hat, according to court documents.

Wy’east Middle School Principal Caroline Garret then reportedly approached Dodge over the hat and lectured him on using better judgment, according to Fox News. In response, Dodge defiantly brought the hat to another training session before the 2019-2020 school year.

Dodge asserted that he was “verbally attacked” by Garret and other school employees when he brought the hat with him a second time. He went on to claim that their retaliation against him was a violation of his First Amendment rights, according to court documents. His outrage preceded a lawsuit filed against Garret, the school’s HR officer Janae Gomes, and the school district.

The appeals panel ruled in favor of Dodge on Dec. 29. The court contended that the school district failed to show evidence of a “tangible disruption” to school operations that would outweigh the teacher’s First Amendment constitutional rights.

The court pointed out that since the teacher didn’t wear the MAGA hat around students or in a classroom, his personal decision to wear it represented his protected rights alone and did not directly represent the school system.

Dodge had very good legal representation. His attorneys argued that there was “no general prohibition on political speech” when Garret informed Dodge that he could not bring his MAGA hat to school. They also highlighted the fact that Garret allowed a Black Lives Matter poster to hang in the library and had a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker on her car.

“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 his opinion.

He further elaborated that “concern over the reaction to controversial or disfavored speech itself does not justify restricting such speech.”

Despite that conclusion, it appears that the ruling tried to straddle the issue, finding that both the Evergreen Public Schools and Gomes did not take any improper administrative action against Dodge.

Michael McFarland, a lawyer who represents the school district and Gomes, said his clients were satisfied with the ruling, according to the Associated Press.

Constitutionalist Jonathan Turley was disturbed by the totality of the outcome, “The Ninth Circuit was clearly correct in finding the hat to be protected speech. What is concerning is the lack of any discipline for Garret or others who sought to prevent opposing political views from being expressed by teachers…”

Dodge resigned from his position as a longtime, beloved teacher in 2020.


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