School was right to ‘fire’ Christian teacher who misgendered trans students, court rules

Indiana school wins appeal against teacher who refused to use transgender students’ chosen names

A court has ruled against a former Indiana music teacher who was forced to resign after he refused to use trans students’ correct names and pronouns.

The decision, from a federal appeals court, upheld a prior ruling that the school did not violate teacher John Kluge’s religious rights by asking him to use trans students’ chosen names and pronouns, Associated Press reported.

According to court records, Kluge was hired as a music and orchestra teacher at Brownsburg High School, about 20 miles from Indianapolis, in 2014. In 2017, the school district began requiring teachers to respect trans students’ chosen names and pronouns, if they were changed in the school’s official student database with permission from parents and a doctor. 

Kluge reportedly told the headteacher ahead of the 2017 school year that he had a religious objection to the ruling, and the school district agreed that he could call students by their surnames instead. 

However, several pupils said that Kluge was making them uncomfortable by only using their surname.

“I think it’s dangerous to have a teacher trying to enforce his religious beliefs under the guise of morality on students,” school pupil Aidyn Sucec told local news outlet WRTV the following year.

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“He started calling us by our last names, it was one of those things where he was technically treating all the students the same, but everybody was aware of why he was doing it… We all knew that it was because of the three trans students.

“I know he thinks he’s doing the right thing but he’s not listening to the actual people this affects.”

When the school district decided that Kluge would either have to abide by their policy or resign, or be fired, Kluge quit. He then sued the school on the grounds of religious discrimination.

On 7 April, Indiana courts ruled that the school district had tried to accommodate Kluge’s religious objection, but realised that the teacher’s use of surnames “resulted in students feeling disrespected, targeted and dehumanised”, and caused “disruptions to the learning environment”. 

Circuit judge Ilana Rovner wrote for the court: “Kluge’s last-names-only practice stigmatised the transgender students and caused them demonstrable emotional harm.

“Brownsburg has demonstrated as a matter of law that the requested accommodation worked an undue burden on the school’s educational mission by harming transgender students and negatively impacting the learning environment for transgender students, for other students in Kluge’s classes and in the school generally, and for faculty.”

Kluge’s representatives said in a statement that the teacher “went out of his way to accommodate his students and treat them all with respect” and that they are considering their next steps. 

The teacher previously told WRTV: “Forcing a teacher to take a side on this very highly controversial topic is a violation of our First Amendment rights.”