A former teacher in Washington is celebrating a big win protecting his First Amendment rights.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District ruled former Wy’east Middle School science teacher Eric Dodge’s decision to bring a “Make America Great Again” hat to a school training was protected speech under the First Amendment.
According to Fox News, Dodge wore the MAGA hat while walking up to an Evergreen Public Schools building to attend a staff-only cultural sensitivity and racial bias training.
Dodge, who was an educator for more than 17 years, didn’t wear the hat during the training but had it set it out where others could see it near his belongings, according to court documents. Some attendees reportedly said they felt “intimidated” and “threatened” by Dodge’s decision to have the hat with him.
The school’s principal Caroline Garret reportedly approached him about the hat and told him to use better judgment. Dodge later brought the hat to another training before the 2019-2020 school year.
On Dec. 29, the appeals panel ruled in favor of Dodge and decided the school district failed to show evidence of a “tangible disruption” to school operations that would outweigh the teacher’s First Amendment rights.
The court noted that because Dodge did not wear the hat around students or in a classroom setting, his decision to wear the hat represented his beliefs alone and could not represent the school system.
Dodge’s lawyers also argued that there was “no general prohibition on political speech” when Garrett told Dodge he could not bring his MAGA hat to school, even adding that Garrett allowed a Black Lives Matter poster to hang in the library and sported 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 the opinion.
The document concluded by saying “concern over the reaction to controversial or disfavored speech itself does not justify restricting such speech.”