Tanner Cross got the last laugh.
The Leesburg Elementary School physical education teacher from northern Virginia was handed a decisive victory on Monday when the Virginia Supreme Court agreed that his suspension for opposing a progressive gender policy was likely unconstitutional.
Who is Cross?
Cross first made headlines in June after he was placed on administrative leave in late May for voicing opposition to a Loudoun County Public Schools policy that requires school faculty to affirm far-left transgender policies, such as using a student's preferred pronouns and allowing "gender-expansive and transgender students" to participate in activities consistent with their "gender identity."
Cross argued the policy violated his religious beliefs. "It's lying to a child, it's abuse to a child, and it's sinning against our God," he said of the policy.
Suspended Virginia teacher reinstated after comments about transgender students www.youtube.com
In June, Cross filed a lawsuit challenging his suspension. Days later, Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge James E. Plowman Jr. reinstated Cross, calling the Christian teacher's suspension "unnecessary and vindictive."
But the Loudoun County Public Schools continued to fight, vowing to take the case to the state Supreme Court. The school district claimed "the rights of students to be educated in a supportive and nurturing environment" outweighed Cross' First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.
What did the Virginia Supreme Court rule?
The commonwealth's highest court explained in a 14-page opinion that the judges did not buy the claim that Cross "might harm children" by not affirming far-left gender ideas, but did believe the school district violated Cross' rights.
"Cross was opposing a policy that might burden his freedoms of expression and religion by requiring him to speak and interact with students in a way that affirms gender transition, a concept he rejects for secular and spiritual reasons. Under such circumstances, Cross' interest in making his public comments was compelling," the court said.
"Although the Board may have considered Cross' speech to be 'a trifling and annoying instance of individual distasteful abuse of a privilege,' we believe Cross has a strong claim to the view that his public dissent implicates 'fundamental societal values' deeply embedded in our Constitutional Republic," the court explained.
The school district had made three arguments in its appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, all of which were rejected.
What was the reaction?
Loudoun County Public Schools did not comment on the ruling, according WRC-TV, or the unilateral rejection of its claims by the high court.
However, the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Cross, celebrated the ruling.
"Teachers shouldn't be forced to promote ideologies that are harmful to their students and that they believe are false, nor should they be silenced for commenting at a public meeting. The lower court's decision was a well-reasoned application of the facts to clearly established law, as the Virginia Supreme Court found," ADF senior counsel Tyson Langhofer said. "Public employees cannot be forced to contradict their core beliefs just to keep a job."
Cross will now return to his job as a PE teacher, the Washington Post noted.