Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images
- A US court has ruled that a high school did not violate the First Amendment rights of a music teacher.
- John Kluge refused on religious grounds to use transgender students’ preferred names.
- “Kluge “stigmatized” transgender students, causing them “demonstrable emotional harm,” said a judge.
A US court has ruled that an Indiana high school did not violate anti-discrimination laws after a teacher quit because he refused to call transgender students their chosen names, the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals has filed.
Music teacher John Kluge refused to use the student’s preferred name and pronouns due to his Christian religious beliefs, according to a civil complaint filed in 2019, which said Kluge “believes encouraging students to present themselves as the opposite sex by calling them an opposite-sex first name is sinful.”
According to the court documents, Brownsburg High School in the Indianapolis suburbs initially allowed Kluge to refer to students by their surname, but his”last-names-only practice stigmatized the transgender students and caused them demonstrable emotional harm,” Circuit Judge Ilana Rovner wrote.
Students and fellow teachers complained, and the decision was reversed, according to court filings.
Kluge’s refusal to accommodate the student’s wishes eventually led to his resignation after he was told his employment was being terminated, Reuters reported. At that point, Kluge attempted to sue the school board for violating his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
He was seeking his job back and unspecified damages, said Reuters.
Kluge’s case was taken up by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group, said Reuters.
Federal law states that employers should only accommodate workers’ religious beliefs if it would not cause an undue hardship on the school’s conduct, and Judge Rovner upheld the court’s ruling that “Kluge’s refusal to follow those policies created an undue hardship on Brownsburg’s mission of educating all of its students.”
Writing a dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge Michael Brennan said it was not clear whether the school was able to mitigate any disruptions that arose as a result of Kluge’s beliefs and conduct, and a jury should determine whether his rights were violated.