A federal appeals court ruled that an Indiana high school did not violate the law when it allegedly forced a music instructor to leave for refusing to accept the new names and pronouns of transgender students.
The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals decided on Friday that the potential disturbance to the educational environment at Brownsburg High School outweighed John Kluge’s rights.
According to Kluge, the district’s policy of respecting pupils’ names and pronouns violated his religious convictions.
The district started directing high school teachers to use the names and pronouns indicated for students in the school’s official database from the beginning of the 2017–2018 academic year. Changes were only permitted with letters from a student’s parent and a doctor.
When Kluge expressed his uneasiness to the school principal on the first day of courses and mentioned his Christian faith, district officials agreed to let him use the pupils’ last names. But the endeavor to make room for Kluge had repercussions.
At least two transgender kids said the teacher singled them out in front of their peers by refusing to use their first names.
Other students, instructors, and counselors quickly criticized Kluge’s decision and told district administrators that Kluge’s classroom made them feel uneasy.
Following the accusations, the school apparently reversed course and pushed Kluge to resign.
According to court documents, Kluge resigned in 2018 after being threatened with termination if he didn’t address students correctly.
In 2019, Kluge filed a lawsuit against the district, alleging that it had broken a federal rule forbidding job discrimination based on religion. She asked for her reinstatement as well as unspecified monetary penalties.
Employers are only compelled by federal law to respect employees’ religious views if doing so won’t put an excessive burden on the business.
While Kluge maintained that using students’ last names wouldn’t burden the school, the 7th Circuit, which is based in Chicago, disagreed and upheld an Indiana federal judge’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit.
The district made an effort to respect Kluge’s religious objection, the appeals court acknowledged, but it soon became clear that his use of last names “resulted in students feeling disrespected, targeted, and dehumanized, and in disruptions to the learning environment.”
The requested accommodation, according to the opinion, “worked an undue burden on the school’s educational mission by harming transgender students and negatively impacting the learning environment for transgender students, for other students in classes and in the school generally, and for faculty.”
Rory Gray, Kluge’s legal representative who represents the libertarian Alliance Defending Freedom, said the organization is debating its next course of action.
According to Gray in a statement, “Congress passed Title VII to prevent employers from forcing workers to renounce their beliefs in order to keep their jobs.” “In this instance, Mr. Kluge went above and above to make accommodations for his students and to treat them all respectfully. Before unjustly punishing Mr. Kluge for his religious convictions, the school district even granted this accommodation.