Misgendering children isn’t a reasonable religious accommodation, rules a federal court in regards to public school teachers.
In 2018, music teacher John Kluge violated his school’s policy of supporting transgender students by refusing to use their proper names and pronouns when asked to. He filed a lawsuit alleging that he was forced to resign over the incident, and that that consequence of his actions violated his constitutional right of religious freedom.
Kluge claimed that his Christian beliefs meant he could not in good conscience use supportive language for his transgender students, and had petitioned the school in the past to enforce teachers to only use their students’ ‘legal’ names and pronouns.
One of his trans students said that Kluge’s treatment made him “feel alienated, upset, and dehumanized. It made me dread going to orchestra class each day.”
Kluge was represented by the anti-LGBTQ+ legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which self-labels as a conservative Christian legal advocacy group and is a recognized hate group.
In 2021, a federal judge ruled against Kluge.
“Students and teachers complained that Mr. Kluge’s behavior was insulting or offensive and made his classroom environment unwelcoming and uncomfortable,” Justice Magnus-Stinson wrote in her 2021 decision. “[One student] quit orchestra entirely.”
Kluge appealed the decision, and now a higher court has upheld the decision. In this ruling, the justice wrote that religious accommodation is not a reason to justify harming students by misgendering them, just because they are transgender. It would be bullying and cruel to do it to a cisgender student, and so it is the same to do it to a transgender student.
Paul Castillo, an attorney at Lambda Legal, told reporters that “This [decision] is a tremendous victory for transgender students who are seeking equal education in classrooms, who are seeking to be safe and respected alongside their peers. I think what’s notable in the judge’s decision is the school’s mission to educate equally all students and that means teachers can’t use religion in ways that interfere with the ultimate obligation of the school.”