Gary Formals is a former U.S. Navy chief and an “Award of Excellence” winner for his service. He also works part-time and volunteers for the Washington State Park and Recreation Commission.
Formals was ordered to remove his pro-Trump political bumper stickers from his personal vehicle “as a condition of his continued volunteer service and part-time employment with the park system.”
He was told he needed to remove or cover bumper stickers because of a park system policy governing “Public Contact/Communication.”
Gary’s bumper stickers included political statements, such as “Trump 2020 and “2-TRUMP-4.”
Earlier this year, the ACLJ filed a lawsuit against WA State Park on behalf of Formhals saying, “Gary believed what the Park was asking him to do was wrong and that it violated his constitutional rights. He was right.”
The ACLJ notes that the policy used against Formals was “wildly overbroad,” stating, “Do not express, display, broadcast, distribute or otherwise communicate to the public any personal opinions, messages or points of view while performing host duties, wearing the host vest, or while occupying the host site. This includes the display of expressive items such as stickers, flags, signs, and clothing.”
The lawsuit requested that the court declare the policy – as written and applied – unconstitutional and award Gary damages for the violation of these constitutional rights and payment for lost wages resulting from his forced resignation from his part-time position.
The ACLJ shares, “The First Amendment does not allow government officials to censor the speech of their employees unless the speech negatively impacts the efficient administration of the workplace. That was certainly not the case here. Even though Park officials knew about Gary’s political bumper stickers for years, they never did anything about them. It wasn’t until a visitor to the Park voiced her outrage about Gary’s bumper stickers, which she described as ‘insurrectionalist [sic],’ that the Park decided to give Gary an ultimatum: your speech or your job.”
“Fortunately, shortly after the ACLJ filed the lawsuit, the WA State Park agreed to work on changing the language of the policy and removing the problematic language.”
The new policy will now read as follows:
The highest priorities of volunteer hosts and the State Parks Volunteer Program are public service and ensuring all park visitors and members of the public feel respected, safe and welcomed at all times in state parks. Consistent with these priorities, host’s behavior, interaction and communication with the park visitors and members of the public must be professional, friendly, polite and in a safe matter, and consistent with State Parks policies and the laws of the State of Washington – including those relating to non-discrimination, anti-harassment and respect for persons.
The ACLJ remarks that the new policy reinstates the important balance between maintaining the efficiency of the public parks and protecting the free speech rights of its volunteers and employees.