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Judge rejects religious freedom argument, rules school was justified in forcing out Christian teacher who refused to use students' transgender pronouns

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The judge ruled the school could not accommodate the teacher's 'religious beliefs without sustaining undue hardship'

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

A federal judge in Indianapolis this week rejected an argument based on a Christian teacher's religious liberty rights by ruling that a school was justified in forcing him to comply with the school's transgender-affirming agenda or else resign.

What happened?

Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana sided against 30-year-old John Kluge, a former orchestra teacher who claimed that in 2018 he was discriminated against by being forced to resign for refusing to refer to students by their preferred gender pronouns.

In a ruling issued on Monday, Magnus-Stinson concluded that Brownsburg Community School Corporation could not accommodate Kluge's "religious beliefs without sustaining undue hardship," and so it was justified in overriding his constitutional freedoms.

In support of her decision, the judge argued that Kluge's "religious opposition to transgenderism is directly at odds with [the district's] policy of respect for transgender students, which is grounded in supporting and affirming those students."

She added that a public school "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."

Federal judge rules against former Brownsburg teacher youtu.be

What's the background?

Kluge taught orchestra at the school from 2014 to 2018, when he resigned over the transgender-affirming policies, WISH-TV reported.

According to court filings, the controversy began at the end of the 2016-2017 school year, when faculty at the school heard a presentation on "what it means to be transgender and how teachers can encourage and support transgender students."

Soon after, the school adopted policies to promote transgenderism, one of which was the requirement that faculty and staff refer to transgender students by their preferred pronouns.

But Kluge indicated to school administrators that due to his religious beliefs he would not be able to comply with the new policy.

Teacher says he was fired over transgender name policy youtu.be

In the court filing, Magnus-Stinson noted that Kluge is a Christian who believes that "God created mankind as either male or female, that this gender is fixed in each person from the moment of conception, and that it cannot be changed, regardless of an individual's feelings or desires."

Eventually, Kluge and the school came to a compromise that allowed the teacher to use only students' last names. However, as time went on and after some students allegedly complained, the school reconsidered the compromise.

In March, the school gave Kluge an ultimatum: Fully comply with the name policy and keep working for the district, resign, or be terminated.

Why does it matter?

The ruling is a major blow to the religious liberty rights of conservative Americans who are increasingly being caught up in the nationwide push to accept and promote transgenderism.

As more and more public schools across the country consider adopting policies to accommodate transgender students, religious teachers are being forced to decide how far they should take their opposition. And schools, in many cases, are taking sides.

A similar scenario is currently playing out in Loudoun County, Virginia, where a Christian elementary teacher was suspended after declaring at a school board that he would not "lie" to his students and "defile" God by affirming that "a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa."

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