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Oregon educators ask 9th Circuit to protect their freedom of speech

Attorneys with ADF, Pacific Justice Institute ask appeals court to reverse lower court decision that allows schools to favor certain viewpoints
Katie Medart and Rachel Sager were fired for voicing their beliefs

PORTLAND, Ore. – Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom and Pacific Justice Institute representing two Oregon educators filed their opening brief Wednesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit urging it to protect their freedom of speech and religion.

Rachel Sager (formerly Damiano) and Katie Medart filed a lawsuit in 2021 against Grants Pass School District 7 after officials suspended and then terminated them for voicing—on their own online platform—their opinions about local, state, and national policy. The educators started a grassroots organization to propose gender identity education policy solutions that respect the rights of students and parents and allow teachers to continue teaching without violating their conscience. The educators were forced to file a lawsuit against the school district for violating their rights to free speech and religious freedom. The district court ruled against them, prompting their appeal.

“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,” said ADF Legal Counsel Mathew Hoffmann. “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.”

“Educators who advocate for common sense and parental involvement should be applauded, not punished,” said Brad Dacus, president and founder of PJI. “We are privileged to stand alongside these brave educators and continue fighting for them at the Ninth Circuit.”

Sager and Medart have been in the education field for many years, including at North Middle School in Grants Pass. Sager served as assistant principal, and Medart taught science there. Together, the two started the grassroots movement “I Resolve” to promote “reasonable, loving, and tolerant solutions” for gender identity education policy that “respect everyone’s rights”—including those of educators, parents, and children. Their proposals allow teachers to abide by their conscience and refrain from using pronouns inconsistent with a student’s sex. “I Resolve” advocates for locker rooms, showers, and restrooms to be designated consistent with sex. It also endorses and gives students the option to request access to private restrooms and locker rooms.

“The district court assumed facts against Rachel and holding that any complaints established disruption, no matter that the complaints objected to Rachel and Katie’s views expressed while off campus and off duty,” the brief the attorneys filed in Damiano v. Grants Pass School District 7 explains. But “disagreement with a disfavored political stance or controversial viewpoint, by itself, is not a valid reason to curtail expression of that viewpoint at a public school.”

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

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Mathew Hoffmann
Mathew Hoffmann
Legal Counsel
Mathew Hoffmann serves as legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a key member of the Center for Academic Freedom.