Byron “Tanner” Cross was suspended as a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, part of the Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia, for causing “disruption” by his statement that he would not follow the LCPS’s policy requiring staff and students to use the name and pronouns of students according to their gender identity, regardless of their biological sex.
The LCPS policy reads: “School staff shall, at the request of a student or parent/legal guardian, when using a name or pronoun to address the student, use the name and pronoun that correspond to their gender identity. … staff or students who intentionally and persistently refuse to respect a student’s gender identity by using the wrong name and gender pronouns are in violation of this policy.”
At a recent school board meeting, during the time set aside for public comment, Cross said that he would not use pronouns inconsistent with a student’s biological sex because it would be a lie and contrary to his religious beliefs. “I’m a teacher,” Cross said, “but I serve God first. 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.”
The school removed Cross as a teacher, ordered him not to enter the school campus, and forbade him from commenting in future school board meetings. An attorney for the school district argued that the principal removed Cross because of the “disruption” caused by his comments. The school district claimed that five parents asked that the school take their children out of Cross’ classroom soon after he made his comments.
Cross, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a lawsuit alleging that the school district had violated his First Amendment rights. They argued that Cross’ comments were constitutionally protected free speech and that the school district’s action in removing Cross from his position was in retaliation against his protected free speech and, thus, illegal. Judge James Plowman Jr ruled in favor of Cross, holding that Cross’ criticism of the policy is protected free speech. Plowman imposed an injunction against the school district’s actions against Cross, requiring that the school reinstate him as a physical education instructor while his case plays out in court. The judge did not rule on the legality of the LCPS policy itself, but that battle will be fought later.
It seems to me this is a clear violation of the First Amendment. Cross expressed his opinion in a public forum where the state requested and made time for public comment. Then the state, after asking for public comment, punished Cross for his public comments because they did not like his comments. Sheesh! The school district seems to take the position that Cross is an employee first and a citizen second. No. That is not how it works. Employees do not surrender the constitutional rights by taking a position with a particular employer, even a state employer. The school district tried to argue that it was not for Cross’ comments that he was suspended, but for the disruption those comments caused. Please! That’s a fine line to be drawing, and not a very genuine one, much less legally defensible. There are people who will disagree or be upset about any number of things people say or do that are perfectly legal and within their rights as citizens. Are people to be punished because others get upset over their exercising their rights in a particular way? That seems to be the argument the school district is making.
Also, this is a clear case of mandated speech. The school district is insisting that their staff, and even students at their schools, must use certain words when engaging in encounters with others. The United States does not have a history of speech mandated by the state, nor do we want one. State officials have over reached too often in their attempts to control the lives of citizens, using the pandemic as an excuse. We do not need state agencies telling us what we must say, or punish us for refusing to follow their speech codes.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.