A federal appeals court panel has decided in favour of a science teacher from Washington state who attended cultural sensitivity training while wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, stating that the hat is allowed free speech under the First Amendment.
The Vancouver instructor Eric Dodge’s First Amendment rights were infringed upon, according to the three-judge panel, when his public school’s administration forbade him from wearing his MAGA hat to the training session.
The conclusion of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was stated by Judge Danielle Forrest as follows: “While some of the training attendees may have been shocked or offended by Dodge’s political statement, no evidence of actual or tangible interruption to school operations has been provided.”
The epitome of protected expression is political speech, which is also fundamentally divisive.
In accordance with court documents, Dodge donned the MAGA hat in August 2019 for a training class on cultural sensitivity and removed it afterward, but left it on his desk.
Dodge donned the hat to training once more the following day after Caroline Garrett, the school’s administrator, reportedly verbally attacked him by calling him a “racist” and a “homophobe” and urged him to use “better judgement.”
While warning Dodge not to wear the hat again, Garrett told investigators other teachers were “offended, alarmed, and perplexed” and denied calling Dodge a racist.
Dodge then brought a harassment claim against the school system, but it was rejected. He then filed a complaint in federal court alleging free speech violations against the school district, Garrett, and Janae Gomes, the district’s chief human resources officer.
The appeals court panel last week decided in favour of Dodge despite the lower court having awarded a summary judgement in favour of the district, Garrett, and Gomes.
The court ruled that Principal Garrett’s belief that she could censor Dodge’s speech to prevent what was really the natural reaction that disfavored political speech frequently has on individuals who hold opposing views was manifestly irrational.
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The judge decides that the teacher’s choice of MAGA outfit did not result in a disruption
The judge presiding over the case came to the conclusion that Dodge’s right to free expression had been violated when principal Garrett responded against Dodge’s behaviour.
Judge Danielle Forrest, a Trump appointment, ruled that while some training participants may have been shocked or offended by Dodge’s political speech, there was no proof of an actual or palpable disturbance to school operations.
He said, “Political speech is the archetypal example of protected expression, and it is inherently divisive.”
In the end, the appeals court dismissed the complaint against the school district and its chief human resources officer after finding that neither party had engaged in any inappropriate administrative behaviour in the event.