Tanner Cross teaches physical education at an elementary school in Loudoun County. He is a devout Christian.
Loudoun County has enacted a wide-ranging policy in favor of students who claim to be of a gender other than their biological sex. The policy permits students to use restrooms and locker rooms, as well as to compete in sports, on the basis of the gender with which they identify, rather than their biological sex.
In addition, the County requires teachers to use students’ preferred pronouns rather than the pronoun reflecting a student’s biological sex. Students are not required to offer “any substantiating evidence” of their gender identity.
Teachers are not to be punished for what are deemed “inadvertent slips” — using a student’s given name or biological pronoun occasionally, by accident. However, “intentionally and persistently” doing so is considered a violation.
(Lucky for my junior high school band teacher that this policy wasn’t effect when he insisted, for some reason, on calling Willie Whitaker “Bill.” And lucky for the rest of the teachers that our class clowns didn’t have the opportunity to torment them by constantly switching pronoun preferences.)
At a school board meeting, Mr. Cross stated that his Christian faith precluded him from deferring to a student’s preferred pronouns because doing so would constitute a lie about the reality of the child’s identity. For sharing this view, Cross was suspended from his job.
A judge ruled that the school board violated Cross’ First Amendment rights, and temporarily blocked the suspension through an injunction. He rejected the weak argument that Cross was suspended not because of his views per se, but because of the “disruption” they caused. The First Amendment’s protections aren’t limited to speech that creates no waves.
Moreover, any disruption Cross’ speech produced surely pales in comparison to that resulting from the school board’s across-the-board attempt to override nature. The school board wants disruption, but only disruption that suits its ideological agenda.
Now, the Virginia Supreme Court has backed Cross. Yesterday, it upheld the lower court’s ruling in his favor.
Meanwhile, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represents Cross, has moved to amend the lawsuit to challenge the underlying policy to which Cross objected. Two Loudoun County teachers have been added as would-be plaintiffs.
Although the case Cross litigated successfully did not present the precise issue the ADF seeks to add to the lawsuit, ADF notes that the Virginia Supreme Court cited with seeming approval a case from the Sixth Circuit, Meriwether v. Hartop. The Virginia Supreme Court said the Sixth Circuit “emphatically held that a university professor stated viable free speech and free exercise claims based on his university’s disciplining him for refusing, based on his Christian faith, to use a student’s preferred pronouns.” We reported on that case in a post called “A victory for sanity in the pronoun wars.”
Tanner Cross’ win is also a victory for sanity (and for free speech, obviously). As for enforcement of Loudoun County’s pronoun policy, I’d like to think an accommodation could be reached, perhaps along one of the lines the plaintiff in Merriweather proposed, unsuccessfully, to his uber-woke college.
But accommodations require mutual respect — in this case, respect for students who genuinely object to being addressed a certain way and respect for teachers with strong religious beliefs about who is a man and who is a woman. Unfortunately, this kind of mutual respect is in short supply these days, sort of like it was at my junior high school all those years ago.