A federal magistrate has ruled that Oregon cannot prevent an engineer who is questioning the state’s mathematical formula for traffic-light timing from calling himself an engineer.
Mats Jarlstrom, defended by the Institute for Justice, filed a First Amendment lawsuit after the state engineering-licensing board fined him for writing in a letter, “I’m an engineer.”
Jarlstrom has a degree in electrical engineering and decades of engineering experience. Like most engineers in Oregon, he is not a state-licensed “professional engineer,” and state law provided that only licensed professional engineers could legally use the title “engineer.”
Magistrate Judge Stacie F. Beckerman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon ruled largely in his favor.
He sued the board in 2017 alleging that Oregon’s engineering-licensing law violated his First Amendment rights by banning him from speaking publicly about the math behind traffic lights and from describing himself as an “engineer.”
“Citing the engineering board’s ‘history of overzealous enforcement actions,’ the court also invalidated Oregon’s restriction on the title ‘engineer’ as ‘substantially overbroad in violation of the First Amendment,” IJ said.
The institute said Jarlstrom’s interest in traffic-light timing was sparked in 2013 when his wife received a red-light-camera ticket in their hometown of Beaverton, Oregon.
“He began studying, writing and speaking publicly about how the standard mathematical formula for timing yellow lights should be tweaked. In his view, the standard formula is incomplete because it fails to capture the behavior of drivers making right turns. And after developing a modified formula – and even corresponding with one of the formula’s original creators – Mats started discussing his theory publicly.”
Many people were interested, but the campaign “came to a screeching halt” when the state board learned of his interest.
“After a two-year investigation, the board fined Mats $500 and said that he could not talk about traffic lights in public until he obtained a state-issued professional-engineer license. If Mats continued to ‘critique’ traffic lights, he would face thousands of dollars in fines and up to one year in jail for the unlicensed practice of engineering. The board also said that Mats could not call himself an ‘engineer,’ even though he has a degree in electrical engineering and decades of engineering experience,” IJ said.
Sam Gedge, an attorney at IJ, said the ruling “announces important protections, not just for Mats’ First Amendment rights, but for the First Amendment rights of thousands of engineers in Oregon.”
“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.”
IJ said the board “even asserted that they could punish the hundreds of Intel employees who call themselves ‘engineers’ without having a board-issued license.”
“Courts have long recognized that the term ‘engineer’ has a generic meaning separate from ‘professional engineer,” the court reasoned, and the word engineer ‘cannot become inherently misleading simply because a state deems it so,'” IJ said.
Jarlstrom said Oregonians “need to be free to share ideas and free to say who they are.”
“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.”
WND reported Jarlstrom had even invited to make a presentation to the Institute of Transportation Engineers in Anaheim, California.
But his state board said the law “prohibits the practice of engineering in Oregon without registration … at a minimum, your use of the title ‘electronics engineer’ and the statement ‘I’m an engineer’ … create violations.”
The board insisted the citizen-engineer was legally prohibited from publishing or presenting his findings.
Jarlstrom contended in court that the state of Oregon doesn’t own the word engineer.
“Anyone should be able to talk about the traffic signals – if they’re too long or too short or anything – without being penalized,” he said.