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U.S. Judge Rules Mats Järlström’s First Amendment Rights Were Infringed

He and others in Oregon who refer to themselves as engineers are not breaking the law

2 min read

A photo of Mats Järlström sitting at a desk next to a laptop.
Photo: Institute for Justice

THE INSTITUTESupporters of Mats Järlström who have been following his case through my popular blog posts “Does Having a License Make You an Engineer?” and “Mats Järlström: I Am an Engineer” will be happy to learn that a judge in federal district court recently ruled that the state of Oregon illegally infringed on his First Amendment rights when it fined him US $500 because he wrote “I am an engineer” in correspondence critiquing the state’s traffic-light systems.

Järlström has an engineering degree and has made significant contributions in the field of servo-feedback-powered speakers. His chosen field of interest is audio engineering and product design; however, he is not a registered Civil Engineer (nor does he claim to be) practicing in the field of “Traffic Engineering.”

The Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying fined him in January 2017 for violating a state law that governs who may call themselves an engineer, finding he wasn’t an Oregon-registered professional engineer. Järlström sued the board, which that June admitted that its interpretation of the law had violated his First Amendment rights. Järlström and his attorney from the Institute for Justice countered that the state’s proposed settlement didn’t go far enough and asked the U.S. district court to take a broader look at the state law and its administrative rules and declare them unconstitutional.

In a 25-page written ruling issued on 28 December, Judge Stacie F. Beckerman found the board has a “history of overzealous enforcement actions” and called its restrictions on the use of the word engineer “substantially overbroad” and in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. She declared that Järlström may study and communicate publicly or privately about his theories relating to traffic lights, as long as his remarks occur outside the context of any employment or contractual relationship with a governmental or other group that changes or implements or has final approval to change or implement traffic-light timing without the review and acceptance of responsibility by an Oregon-licensed professional engineer.

The judge also wrote, “The term engineer, standing alone, is neither actually nor inherently misleading.

“Courts have long recognized that the term engineer has a generic meaning separate from professional engineer and that the term has enjoyed widespread usage in job titles in our society to describe positions which require no professional training.”

Järlström told The Institute, “This case has always been about more than just me, and I’m thrilled that the court has put a stop to some of the engineering board’s worst abuses. Being an engineer is a big part of my identity, as it is for many people. Thousands of Oregonians are engineers—even though we have no reason to be licensed as professional engineers—and we are now free to use the word engineer to describe ourselves.”

What are your thoughts on the ruling?

Do you agree with the judge that the term engineer has a generic meaning?

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