Vancouver, WA

Federal Appeals Court Rules MAGA Hat Is Protected Under the First Amendment

The Maine Writer

Eric Dodge had for many years been teaching in the Evergreen School District, located in Vancouver, Washington. During the 2019-2020 school year, Eric attended two days of teacher training, and during these two days, he brought with him his red "Make America Great Again" hat. Eric said he placed the hat on the table or on top of his backpack and was not wearing the hat during the training.

After the first day of training, the principal of the school, Caroline Garrett, asked Eric Dodge to use better judgment after she said she had received complaints about his hat from other teachers and the facilitator that was leading the teacher training.

On the second day of the training, Dodge returned with his MAGA hat. The principal told him he could not bring his MAGA hat with him or he would face a disciplinary hearing.

Dodge proceeded to file a harassment complaint with the Evergreen School District against the principal. The school district did dismiss Dodge's complaint but did allow him to transfer to another school. Dodge then filed a lawsuit in federal court against the school district for violating his right to free speech.

The court ruled against Dodge and in favor of the school district. Dodge then filed a federal appeal, and the court ruled in favor of Dodge. The court ruling said while some of the training attendees may have been outraged or offended by Dodge's political expression, no evidence of actual or tangible disruption to school operations had been presented. 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 Dodge's First Amendment rights. Therefore, Principal Garrett’s asserted administrative interest in preventing disruption among staff did not outweigh Dodge's right to free speech.

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