9th Federal Appeals Court Rules “MAGA” is a Form of Protected Free Speech
“MAGA” is a form of free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution, according to a federal appeals court long derided by conservatives as one of the most liberal legal panels in the land.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled an Oregon middle school science teacher’s baseball cap emblazoned with the “Make America Great Again” motto popularized during former President Donald Trump’s first campaign, is political speech secured by the First Amendment.
Eric Dodge reportedly drew the scrutiny of Evergreen Public Schools officials when he brought a bright-red “MAGA” hat to school cultural sensitivity training before the 2019-2020 school year and his employer told him he could not bring the hat to the training, according to a report posted at OregonLive.com. The story detailed how Dodge claimed he was verbally attacked by his principal, who called him a “racist” and a “homophobe.”
Court documents show the former Wy’east Middle School, an educator for more than 17 years, wore the hat while walking up to a school district building to attend a staff-only cultural sensitivity and racial bias training.
Dodge, in fact, did not wear the hat during the training, but had set it out where others could see it near his belongings. Some attendees were quoted in the court documents saying they felt “intimidated” and “threatened” by Dodge’s decision to bring the hat.
Another account by Fox News said Wy’east Middle School Principal Caroline Garret approached Dodge about the hat and told him to use better judgment. Dodge said he received verbal attacks by Garret and other school employees after he took the hat to another district training event.
Dodge resigned from his position in 2020 but followed through with a harassment complaint against Garrett, the school’s human relations officer Janae Gomes and the school district. The suit was initially dismissed as “unsubstantiated,’ but then the 9th Circuit decided Dodge had submitted “sufficient evidence” to warrant a retrial on whether Garrett’s actions constituted a First Amendment retaliation case and on Dec. 29 the appeals panel ruled Garrett’s action did in fact amount to retaliation that violated Dodge’s First Amendment rights.
The 9th District judges determined the school district had failed to show evidence of a “tangible disruption” to school operations that would outweigh the teacher’s free speech guarantees.
The court noted that since Dodge did not wear the hat around students or in a classroom setting, wearing the hat represented his beliefs alone and could not represent the school system, unlike what was found in other court cases.
Dodge’s lawyers 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 had affixed a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker on her own 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, which concluded that “concern over the reaction to controversial or disfavored speech itself does not justify restricting such speech.”
While the appeals court ruled in favor of Dodge’s First Amendment rights case against Garrett, it found that neither the Evergreen Public Schools district or Gomes took any improper administrative action against Dodge.
Commonly viewed as one of the most liberal panels in the federal court system, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was repeatedly challenged by then-President Trump for ruling against his plans for a stricter immigrant asylum policy and other matters.