A federal appeals court ruled Friday that a public high school teacher in Indiana did not have the right to ignore transgender students’ names and pronouns just because of his religious beliefs.
John Kluge worked as a music teacher at the Brownsburg Community School Corporation for four years. In 2017, he refused to abide by the school’s new policy to use trans students’ chosen names and pronouns, claiming it violated his Christian beliefs. He was initially granted an accommodation to refer to all students by their last names, which distressed both trans and cisgender students because they figured out his reasons. The school withdrew the accommodation, and he resigned at the end of the school year in 2018.
Kluge sued the school that same year for religious discrimination and retaliation. Brownsburg argued in response that he had caused it “undue hardship” by his refusal to use students’ chosen names and pronouns, which made some students feel “targeted and uncomfortable” and ultimately hindered their ability to learn. The school also said Kluge’s stance opened it up to gender discrimination lawsuits.
A district court ruled in Brownsburg’s favor in July 2021, and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision Friday. “Brownsburg was within its rights … to withdraw the requested accommodation when it became apparent that it was not working in practice and was causing harm to students,” the court said in the ruling.
What’s more, the ruling said, Kluge’s retaliation claim “fails as a matter of law because he failed to produce any evidence supporting” his case.
The ruling is an important win for trans rights, which are under attack across the country. Twenty states, such as Florida, Texas, and Montana, have banned trans girls from playing on girls’ sports teams. Most recently, on Wednesday, Kansas’s Republican-controlled legislature overrode Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s veto of a bill banning trans girls from playing girls’ sports.
But it’s not all bad news: On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that a 12-year-old trans girl in West Virginia must be allowed to compete on her school’s girls’ cross-country and track teams.
West Virginia implemented a law banning trans girls from girls’ teams in 2021, but that law is being challenged in court. The Supreme Court said that the law cannot be enforced until the case is decided.