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Appeals Court Affirms MAGA Hat Protections

National

A man wears a MAGA hat in Austin, Texas | Image by Roschetzky Photography/Shutterstock

An appeals court has ruled in favor of a teacher wearing a MAGA hat on the campus of a public school.

Eric Dodge, a teacher at Wy’east Middle School in Washington’s Evergreen School District, had worn a Make America Great Again (MAGA) hat to two days of teacher training in the fall of 2019. Principal Caroline Garrett began advising Dodge against wearing the item on school grounds, according to court documents.

After the first training day and after consulting with the district’s chief human resource officer, Garrett told Dodge that he needed to exercise “better judgment.”

Dodge took this as the principal ordering him to not bring the hat with him to the campus.

Dodge brought the hat with him to the second day of training, taking the hat off when he entered the building. He alleged that when he approached Garrett, she said, “What is the f*****g deal with your hat?”

Garrett allegedly called Dodge a “homophobe and a racist and a bigot and hateful,” after clarifying that she did not want him wearing the hat at all.

Finally, Garrett allegedly said: “[N]ext time I see you with that hat, you need to have your union rep. Bring your rep because I’ll have mine.”

Dodge subsequently sued Garrett, the HR officer, and the district for violating his First Amendment rights and retaliating against protected political speech.

Garrett claimed that she was advising Dodge of his right to have a representative for future conversations regarding the hat. She had argued that the presence of the item on school grounds was harmful to the interests of the school and that her actions were to avoid the discomfort of others onsite.

A professor from Washington State University who was leading the training on the first day had reportedly seen Dodge’s hat and complained to the principal that she felt “intimidated and traumatized.”

Other teachers present also voiced complaints, with one reportedly crying and another claiming to have found the hat “threatening.”

The court ultimately ruled on December 29 that Dodge’s rights of expression were compromised.

“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,” said the court. “Therefore, Principal Garrett’s asserted administrative interest in preventing disruption among staff does not outweigh Dodge’s right to free speech.”

Dodge resigned from his position at the school in 2020, according to Fox News.

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