Court Rules on MAGA Hat that Ignited ‘Racist, Homophobe’ Furor

This story was originally published by the WND News Center.

A federal appeals court has ruled that a MAGA hat, brought by a teacher to school training sessions, was free speech.

The decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit originally filed by Eric Dodge against the Washington school and several officials, including the principal, Caroline Garrett, who berated him as a “racist” and a “homophobe” for having the hat.

Fox News reported Dodge wore the hat, carrying President Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan while walking up to an Evergreen Public Schools building to attend a “cultural sensitivity and racial bias” training session demanded by the school.

During the training, he put it in an area where he had some belongings, prompting others at the meeting to claim they were “intimidated” and “threatened” by Dodge’s hat.

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Garrett, the report said, expressed her dislike for the hat, “verbally attacked” him, and implied a threat by telling him to have a union representative with him if he brought the hat again.

The court decided in Dodge’s favor, explaining the school failed to show any evidence of a “tangible disruption” to school operations that would outweigh the First Amendment rights involved.

Dodge’s lawyers had pointed out the school had no “general prohibition on political speech” and even allowed a political Black Lives Matter poster to be hung in the library, and Garrett had 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.

Constitutional expert Jonathan Turley, a high-profile commentator on legal issues who has testified before Congress multiple times, noted the 9th Circuit’s ruling was unanimous.

And he warned that “Garrett’s view of the MAGA hat as a symbol of hate has been fueled in the media by various leaders, particularly President Joe Biden who was denounced for his attacks on ‘MAGA Republicans’ in his Philadelphia speech. We have also seen students and others attacked for wearing hats. At Fordham University, a coffee shop banned the wearing of the hats.”

And he pointed out Garrett cross the line of her own permissible free speech “by referencing the need for union representation. … It is hardly controversial that threatening a subordinate’s employment if they do not stop engaging in protected speech is reasonably likely to deter that person from speaking.”

He explained, “The Ninth Circuit was correct in finding the hat to be protected speech. What is concerning is the lack of any discipline for Garrett or others who sought to prevent opposing political views from being expressed by teachers. The denial of free speech should be treated as seriously as other abuses. There should be consequences for administrators who discriminate based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or political viewpoints. This was a denial of First Amendment rights that should warrant some adverse action for those responsible in the school district.”

He warned the case “shows the sense of license of many teachers in curtailing the rights of others with opposing political views. That sense of license will continue despite this ruling if there are no consequences for denying free speech rights.”

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