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Teacher’s MAGA hat protected speech under First Amendment, appeals court rules

A federal appeals court panel has ruled in favor of a teacher who brought a "Make America Great Again" hat to cultural sensitivity training, saying the hat is protected political speech under the First Amendment. File photo by Matthew Healey/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/4e354a60eec810117f7e09fc6863a51d/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
A federal appeals court panel has ruled in favor of a teacher who brought a “Make America Great Again” hat to cultural sensitivity training, saying the hat is protected political speech under the First Amendment. File photo by Matthew Healey/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 4 (UPI) — A federal appeals court panel has ruled in favor of a Washington state science teacher who brought a “Make America Great Again” hat to cultural sensitivity training, saying the hat is protected free speech under the First Amendment.

The three-judge panel ruled that Vancouver teacher Eric Dodge’s First Amendment rights were violated when his public school’s principal banned him from bringing the MAGA hat to the training session.

“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 has been presented,” Judge Danielle Forrest, of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote in the court’s decision.

“Political speech is the quintessential example of protected speech, and it is inherently controversial.”

According to court records, Dodge wore the MAGA hat in August of 2019 to a cultural sensitivity training session and took it off after he arrived, but left it visible on his desk.

After the school’s principal, Caroline Garrett, asked Dodge to use “better judgment,” he wore the hat again to training the next day when Dodge claimed he was verbally attacked by the principal, who allegedly called him a “racist” and a “homophobe.”

Garrett denied calling Dodge a racist and told investigators other teachers were “offended, worried and confused,” as she warned Dodge not to wear the hat again.

Dodge went on to file a harassment complaint against the school district, which was dismissed. He then filed a lawsuit in federal court against the school district, Garrett and the district’s chief human resources officer Janae Gomes for violating his free speech.

While the lower court granted a summary judgment in favor of the district, Garrett and Gomes, last week’s appeals court panel ruled in favor of Dodge.

“It was patently unreasonable for Principal Garrett to believe that she could restrict Dodge’s speech to quell what was, in reality, nothing more than the natural effect that disfavored political speech often has on those with different viewpoints,” the court said.

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