Court Rules Teacher’s MAGA Hat Protected By First Amendment

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a former middle school science teacher that his “Make America Great Again” hat was free speech protected by the First Amendment.

Eric Dodge, a 17-year veteran teacher, sparked anger from his Evergreen Public Schools principal in Oregon in 2019 when he brought the MAGA hat to a cultural sensitivity and racial bias training session.

Dodge said the Wy’east Middle School principal called him a “racist” and a “homophobe” over the trademark red cap with white lettering. He wore the hat as he walked up to the building but took it off during training. However, he had it sitting where others could see it.

Some of his colleagues reported feeling “intimidated” and “threatened” by the hat, according to court documents. Principal Caroline Garrett reportedly told Dodge to use “better judgment,” but he later brought it to another training before the next school year.

That was when the alleged verbal attack occurred.

Dodge filed a harassment complaint internally, but it was dismissed as “unsubstantiated” by the district. Then a lower court ruling sided with the school administration before his case was appealed to the 9th Circuit Appeals Court.

The panel then ruled that Dodge “was engaged in speech protected by the First Amendment.”

It was possible, the judges agreed, for some of the other teachers at the season to be “outraged or offended by the plaintiff’s political expression.” However, the panel ruled that the school district did not prove the “tangible disruption” necessary to suppress Dodge’s 1st Amendment rights.

The court also noted that the former teacher did not wear the hat in the presence of students or in his classroom.

This, the panel concluded, meant that he was expressing his views as an individual and not as a representative of the school system. That distinction made his case different from others involving educators and personal expression.

Dodge’s lawyers also told the court that the school had a “Black Lives Matter” poster hanging in the library and that the principal displayed a Bernie Sanders sticker on her vehicle.

Leftists at one time could be counted on to stand tall for free speech, but that was before President Donald Trump. His election meant that dissent had to be stifled, and suddenly political expression became a threatening exercise that must be controlled.

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