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Court: Teacher’s Religious Rights Not Infringed by Trans Students’ Names, Pronouns

Court: Teacher’s Religious Rights Not Infringed by Trans Students’ Names, Pronouns

Brownsburg High School and ex-teacher John Kluge

A federal appeals court ruled that a school district didn’t violate the teacher’s rights by forcing him out over his refusal to acknowledge trans students’ names and pronouns.

On Friday, a federal appeals court ruled that an Indiana school district did not violate a former music teacher’s rights by forcing him to resign after refusing to use the names of transgender students.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a prior federal judge’s ruling.

As a teacher, John Kluge claimed that he would be forced to violate his religious rights by respecting the names and pronouns of transgender students.

In 2014, Kluge began teaching music and orchestra at Brownsburg High School, northwest of Indianapolis. Teachers were required to use pronouns and names listed in the school’s official student database, where parent and doctor letters could be used to change them.

Kluge said that his Christian religious beliefs prevented him from acting in compliance with a school policy requiring faculty to use students’ preferred names and pronouns. He, along with several other teachers, informed Bret Daghe, the school principal, at the start of the 2017 school year that he had religious objections to using transgender students’ names and pronouns, according to court documents.

However, at least two transgender students felt isolated and hurt by Kluge’s refusal to use their first names in front of their peers. In addition, several other students, teachers, and counselors reported that Kluge’s classroom was uncomfortable.

Teachers were subsequently informed that the names and pronouns listed for students in the database would be required. Kluge asked officials whether the rule would apply to him, and they responded that he could abide by it, resign, or be fired.

In response, Kluge resigned and sued the school.

Kluge accused the school district of discrimination against religious employees in a lawsuit filed in 2019. As part of his lawsuit, he sought his job back and unspecified monetary damages.

Earlier this year, an Indiana federal judge found Kluge’s refusal to respect transgender students’ names and pronouns created undue hardship on the district, which must provide education for all its students.

In its ruling, the court noted that district officials tried to consider Kluge’s religious objection but realized that using last names by the music teacher disrupted the learning environment. The court found that this caused students to feel disrespected, targeted, and dehumanized.

“Brownsburg has demonstrated as a matter of law that the requested accommodation 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 Kluge’s classes, and in the school generally, and for faculty,” the court wrote.

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