The 7th US Court of Appeals ruled on Friday that there was no issue in forcing a music teacher out of his job over his religious beliefs, which he expressed by refusing to use a student's preferred pronouns. In this, the court upheld an Indiana federal judge's ruling to force the teacher to use preferred pronouns.
The Brownsburg High School near Indianapolis had initially accommodated teacher John Kluge, who instead of using a student's preferred pronouns referred to students by their last names, a practice that certainly has historical precedent in education.
In 2018, the school changed their tune, and said that Kluge must speak the pronouns the students demanded or he would be fired, Reuters reports. The court essentially ruled that the government does have the right to violate a person's religious liberty and force their speech.
Students complained to Brownsburg, and instead of backing Kluge, the school gave in to the students.
Kluge left his position instead of complying with the forced speech rules, and took up the suit against the school in 2019. He accused Brownsburg of discriminating against him based on his religion, which is a violation of federal law. Kluge wanted to be reinstated, and he wanted damages. He was represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom.
"The 7th Circuit’s ruling shows why the Supreme Court needs to fix the standard for accommodating religious employees," ADF attorney Rory Gray said in a statement to Reuters.
"When the school district mandated that teachers call students by their preferred gender pronouns and names, Kluge requested a religious accommodation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to call all his students by their last names only—like a coach—instead of referring to female students with male names and pronouns and vice versa," the ADF wrote when they appealed the case in 2021. "The school district granted Kluge’s request based on his religious beliefs, and Kluge successfully continued teaching under the religious accommodation for an entire school year. But in response to the grumblings of a few students and faculty, the school district revoked the religious accommodation and forced Kluge to resign, ending his teaching career."
The appeals court determined that it would not be an undue hardship for Kluge to use the pronouns he was told to, and to lie to students about their sex and gender identity. But Kluge had argued the reverse, that his not using the pronouns did not create an undue burden for the school.
The court said that using students' last names "stigmatized the transgender students and caused them demonstrable harm." Judge Ilana Rover did not believe that Kluge faced harm by being forced to violate his religious beliefs in order to retain his job.
Much of the issue of the ADF's case centered around the school giving Kluge the accommodation, and then revoking it when students complained about it.
In a dissent, Circuit Judge Michael Brennan said a jury should decide if Kluge's rights had been violated.
The ACLU recently sued the state of Indiana for banning child sex changes.
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