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Virginia Supreme Court Reinstates Teacher Opposed to Transgender Policy

September 2, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
The Virginia Supreme Court building in Richmond. (Photo by Morgan Riley, Wikimedia Commons)

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Supreme Court ruled this week that a public school teacher must be reinstated after he was suspended for refusing to use transgender students’ preferred names and pronouns.

The teacher, physical education instructor Tanner Cross, cited religious beliefs for his refusal to use “he” or “she” pronouns based on students’ sexual orientation preference rather than their biological gender. He also insisted on using the students’ legal names rather than the names they chose for themselves.

After he explained his opposition to a Loudoun County Public Schools policy in May, administrators barred him from entering any of the public schools.

“I’m a teacher, but I serve God first,” Cross said during the May 25 hearing before the school board. “And I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it’s against my religion, it’s lying to a child, it’s abuse to a child and it’s sinning against our God.”

Cross had been an elementary teacher in Leesburg, Va., for eight years. He addressed the board during a public comment period as it considered the transgender policy.

Loudoun County Public Schools’ transgender policy says students can use bathrooms and participate in extracurricular activities consistent with their gender identity. Staff members must address the students by their preferred names and pronouns.

“It is not my intention to hurt anyone,” Cross told the school board. “But there are certain truths that we must face when ready. We condemn school policies like [the trans-inclusive policy] because it will damage children, defile the holy image of God.”

He was notified the next evening he would be placed on paid administrative leave. School officials wrote a letter to staff members and parents to inform them about Cross’ suspension. 

Cross sued, claiming in his lawsuit that the school system violated the Virginia Constitution’s prohibition on viewpoint discrimination. He also claimed violations of his rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The trial court agreed with Cross and ordered him reinstated. Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge James E. Plowman said the suspension was unconstitutional because it “silenced others from speaking publicly.”

The school board appealed but the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision.

The state supreme Court’s ruling said 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.”

The school board explained its position in a press release that said Cross’ statements at the May 25 hearing created “significant disruption.”

“Many students and parents at Leesburg Elementary have expressed fear, hurt, and disappointment about coming to school,” the school board’s statement said.

Some parents asked that Cross be banned from any contact with their children, administrators said.

Teachers’ rights to freedom of speech and religion do not “outweigh the rights of students to be educated in a supportive and nurturing environment,” the school board said.

The Virginia Supreme Court ruling disagreed, saying, “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. Although the [Loudoun School] 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 also said there was minimal evidence that Cross’ opinions could harm schoolchildren.

Cross was represented by the conservative legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom. His attorney, Tyson Langhofer, said the state Supreme Court’s ruling showed the gym teacher was right.

“Teachers shouldn’t be forced to promote ideologies that are harmful to their students and that they believe are false,” Langhofer said in a statement. “Nor should they be silenced for commenting at a public meeting.”

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