Saturday, April 15, 2023

Federal court: No misgendering transgender students on religious grounds. (Washington Blade)

A deep pocket anti-Gay hate group that calls itself the "Alliance Defending Freedom," tortures the Rule of Law and LGBTQ people with frivolous lawsuits.  

Another one bit the dust. 

Here's another example of bigots demanding recognition for their bigotry, with phony-baloney anti-trans "religious accommodation" demands knocked into a cocked hat by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago.   This is the imaginary grievance business, a sack of "conservative" cynics whose abuse of legal concepts knows no bounds.  Three cheers for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. 

From The Washington Blade: 

Federal court: No misgendering transgender students on religious grounds

7th Circuit judge issued ruling in Ind. case 





The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that a public school teacher does not have the right to misgender a transgender student simply because they’re trans. The court found a religious accommodation could not justify the “harm to students and disruption to the learning environment.”

The 3-judge circuit court panel upheld a Jan. 8, 2020, ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. 

The case on behalf of John Kluge, who worked at Brownsburg High School in Brownsburg, Ind., as a music and orchestra teacher from 2014 until May 2018, was brought by the anti-LGBTQ legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which self labels as a conservative Christian legal advocacy group, but the Southern Poverty Law Center first listed as an anti-LGBTQ hate group in 2016.

WISH in Indianapolis had reported that in court documents Brownsburg faculty during meetings in early 2017 began talking about trans students and “how teachers can encourage and support them.” After that, faculty and staff approached the high school’s principal for direction on how to address trans students.

In May 2017, Kluge and three other teachers presented the principal with a signed letter expressing religious objections to “transgenderism,” asking that faculty and staff not be required to refer to trans students by their preferred pronouns. In the letter, they also said they did not want trans students to be allowed to use the restrooms or locker rooms of their choice.

Later in that May, the Brownsburg Community School Corporation district adopted a policy that required all staff to refer to students by their chosen name listed in the school records. According to court documents, “students could change their first names in PowerSchool if they presented a letter from a parent and a letter from a healthcare professional regarding the need for a name change.”

The policy also allowed trans students to use restrooms of their choice and dress according to the gender with which they identified.

Kluge refused and was told by the high school’s principal that there were only three options: Follow the policy; resign; or be suspended, pending termination. He refused to follow the policy or resign, so he was suspended.

Kluge then compromised and presented district officials with two requested accommodations: First, that he be allowed to refer to all students by their last names only, “like a gym coach;” and second, that he not be responsible for handing out gender specific orchestra uniforms to students. He would treat the class like an “orchestra team” he proposed.

According to the court documents, He agreed that, if a student asked him why he was using last names only, he would not mention his religious objections to using trans students’ first names and would explain, “I’m using last names only because we’re a team, we’re an orchestra team, just like a sports coach says, hey, Smith, hey, Jones. We are one orchestra team working towards a common goal.”

School officials began to receive complaints from the Brownsburg High School Equality Alliance students and parents that Kluge was referring to them by their last names only, was a practice they found insulting and disrespectful.

In addition to the complaints of the school’s LGBTQ students, a student who was not in the Equality Alliance but was in Kluge’s orchestra class and who did not identify as LGBTQ, told school administrators that Kluge’s use of last names made him feel incredibly uncomfortable. The student described Kluge’s practice as very awkward because the student was fairly certain that all the students knew why Kluge had switched to using last names, and that it made the trans students in the orchestra class stand out. The student felt bad for the trans students, and shared with that other students felt this way as well.

The principal met with Kluge in December 2017 and told him using last names only was “creating tension in the students and faculty” and told him it might be good for him to resign at the end of the year.

On Jan. 22, 2018, administrators presented the faculty with a document titled “Transgender Questions.” The document provided policies and guidance for faculty in a question/answer format regarding issues relevant to trans students. Among the questions posed and answers given were the following:

Are we allowed to use the student’s last name only?

We have agreed to this for the 2017–2018 school year, but moving forward it is our expectation the student will be called by the first name listed in PowerSchool.

How do teachers break from their personal biases and beliefs so that we can best serve our students? 

We know this is a difficult topic for some staff members, however, when you work in a public school, you sign up to follow the law and the policies/practices of that organization and that might mean following practices that are different than your beliefs

What feedback and information has been received from transgender students?

They appreciate teachers who are accepting and supporting of them. They feel dehumanized by teachers they perceive as not being accepting or who continue to use the wrong pronouns or names. Non-transgender students in classrooms with transgender students have stated they feel uncomfortable in classrooms where teachers are not accepting. For example, teachers that call students by their last name, don’t use correct pronouns, don’t speak to the studentor acknowledge them, etc.

According to WISH, Kluge responded to the document by asking if he would still be allowed to call the students by their last names only.

In a February meeting, administrators told Kluge he would no longer be allowed to continue that practice, saying the “accommodation was not reasonable.” They went on to discuss whether Kluge would finish the school year or resign mid-year and offered to let him submit his resignation and not process it or tell anyone about it until the end of the school year. Kluge told the court the explanation of the resignation process led him to believe he could turn in a “conditional resignation” that he could later withdraw.

In March, Kluge was once again given the same options: follow the name policy and keep working for the district, resign or be terminated. He was told if he didn’t submit his resignation by May 1, the district would begin the termination process.

On April 30, Kluge emailed the human resources director with a formal resignation and asked that it not be shared with anyone until May 29. In the letter, he said he was resigning because of the district’s name policy and the loss of his accommodation.

By late May Kluge then attempted to withdraw his resignation and accused the district of discrimination based on his religious beliefs. At a June 11, 2018, school board meeting, he asked the board members to not to accept his resignation, and then there was a contentious public comments session as members of the community spoke both for and against his termination. The board approved his resignation.

Not long after he filed suit.

Magnus-Stinson in her ruling noted: Kluge v. Brownsburg Cmty. Sch. Corp., 432 F. Supp. 3d 823, 851 (S.D. Ind. 2020) (“The policy controlled the way in which Mr. Kluge addressed individual students during the course of his employment, but did not otherwise affect his ability to exercise his religion in the remainder of his life. Accordingly, to the extent that the Policy limited his religious exercise, the limitation was not so significant as to render the entire idea of free exercise of religion meaningless, because Mr. Kluge remained free to exercise his religious beliefs at other times and in other places.”)

Magnus-Stinson also concluded that a public school corporation “has an obligation to meet the needs of all of its students, not just a majority of students or the students that were unaware of or unbothered by Mr. Kluge’s practice of using last names only.”

Friday’s appellate court decision is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Seventh Circuit ruling upholding U.S. District Court Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson’s ruling:

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