In context: About a year and a half ago we reported on a man in Oregon who was fined for describing himself as an engineer in an opinion submitted to the Oregon State Board of Engineers regarding the timing of traffic signals in Beaverton.
In 2017, Mats Järlström was fined $500 by the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying for using the word “engineer” to describe himself. The board also forbade him from publicly talking about engineering subject matter. Järlström filed a civil rights lawsuit claiming the board was infringing on his First Amendment right to free speech.
Järlström, who has a background in engineering but was not licensed or practicing the profession, had submitted a detailed opinion including maths about why the timing of traffic lights in Beaverton was a safety hazard and needed to be updated. Many were interested in his study including licensed public safety engineers.
After being slapped with a bureaucratic gag order and fine, Järlström took the board to court. The US District Court for Oregon sided with the retired engineer and entered a permanent injunction allowing Järlström to speak about his engineering theories freely and to call himself an engineer.
Magistrate Judge Stacie F. Beckerman stated in her December 28, 2018, ruling that the board has a “history of overzealous enforcement actions” and called its restrictions on the use of the word engineer “substantially overbroad in violation of the First Amendment.”
“Last week’s ruling announces important protections, not just for Mats’s First Amendment rights, but for the First Amendment rights of thousands of engineers in Oregon,” said Järlström’s attorney Sam Gedge with the Institute for Justice (IJ). “Not only is Mats free to continue to share his theories, but thousands of Oregon engineers are now free to describe themselves—truthfully—as ‘engineers,’ without fear of government punishment. For years, Oregon’s engineering board has operated as if the First Amendment didn’t apply to it. As the court’s ruling confirms, that could not be more wrong.”
The judgment invalidates an Oregon statute that claimed only Oregon-licensed engineers could describe themselves as such. The IJ told TechSpot in an email that the Oregon Board of Engineers almost religiously enforced the law. The board was known to target anyone who used the word publicly regardless of context.
“In candid moments, the board even asserted that they could punish the hundreds of Intel employees who call themselves 'engineers' without having a board-issued license,” said a spokesperson for IJ.
Regarding the decision, Järlström said that the win was not just about him.
"Oregonians need to be free to share ideas and free to say who they are," he said. "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."