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Alliance Defending Freedom Fights for Oregon Educators’ Rights In First Amendment Case

Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom and Pacific Justice Institute have filed an opening brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit urging it to protect the freedom of speech and religion of two Oregon educators.

The educators filed a lawsuit, Damiano v Grants Pass School District 7, in 2021 after being suspended and later terminated for expressing their opinions on gender identity education policy on their own online platform.

According to the brief, after getting inconsistent answers from the school administration regarding gender identity education policy, “Rachel began to draft, on her own time outside of school, “I Resolve”—model gender-identity education policy for adoption by local, state, and federal leaders.”

“I Resolve” is a “grassroots movement” that presents “[r]easonable, loving, and tolerant solutions for education policies that respect everyone’s rights,” the brief states. When some other teachers complained about what Sager and Medart were posting, Grants Pass School District, board members, and district officials placed Sager and Medart on administrative leave and eventually terminated them.

Sager and Medart filed a suit challenging the censorship and their termination, but the district court ruled against them, leading to their appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys contend that the school district violated the educators’ free speech rights. They argue that public school employees should have the freedom to express their opinions on important public issues, such as gender identity education policy, when doing so off-campus and off-duty.

Additionally, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys assert that Rachel and Katie were subjected to retaliation by the school district for expressing their opinions, and this retaliation is unconstitutional.

They argue that the school district’s actions were motivated by disagreement with the educators’ viewpoints and that the officials should not be shielded from liability because it was clear that their actions violated the educators’ First Amendment rights.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys also raise concerns about the school district’s speech policy, suggesting that it restricts free speech rights.

Alliance Defending Legal Counsel Mathew Hoffmann says public schools can’t retaliate against          educators for expressing opinions on fundamental issues of public concern—like gender identity education policy—that implicate the freedoms of educators, parents, and students.

“Rachel and Katie spoke while off campus and off duty, but the school district used its overreaching speech policy to punish them for expressing their beliefs. School officials actively solicited negative comments from staff and students after Rachel and Katie expressed their opinions, yet the lower court failed to acknowledge this clear violation of their speech and religious rights. All educators should be free to advocate for solutions they believe in, and we urge the 9th Circuit to make clear that government employers can’t discipline someone for expressing her views on such an important issue,” Hoffman said in a statement on Alliance Defending Freedom Media.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, marriage and family, and the sanctity of life.

Alliance Defending Freedom Church Alliance and Alliance Defending Freedom Ministry Alliance are membership programs offering legal services and guidance to leaders who wish to uphold their ministries’ biblical beliefs while navigating the intricacies of the law.