A school's policy on calling transgender students by their preferred names trumps a teacher's right to exercise his or her deeply-held religious beliefs, according to a ruling in a U.S. appeals court Friday.
"The 7th Circuit’s ruling shows why the Supreme Court needs to fix the standard for accommodating religious employees," Rory Gray, a lawyer representing John Kluge said in a statement to Reuters.
Kluge was a teacher at Brownsburg High School in Indiana. He left the school in 2018 over a dispute regarding the school's policy requiring teachers to address transgender students by their preferred name and pronouns rather than their birth name, as TheBlaze reported.
Friday's ruling in the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the high school broke no laws by allegedly forcing Kluge out by revoking a religious accommodation allowing the orchestra teacher to call students by their last names, as a coach might.
The ruling upheld an Indiana federal judge's ruling that dismissed Kluge's lawsuit.
In that lawsuit, Kluge argued that the last-name-only solution created no burden for the school. He was reportedly seeking unspecified monetary damages and to get his job back.
"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," the opinion read, in part.
Circuit Judge Ilana Rovner said the last-name-only solution "stigmatized the transgender students and caused them demonstrable harm," as Reuters reported.
Circuit Judge Michael Brennan said in a dissenting opinion that it was "unclear whether the school could have mitigated any disruptions resulting from Kluge's conduct." He said a jury should decide on the potential rights violation issue.
Kludge said he resigned after he was told he would be fired. Though the school originally agreed to a modest religious accommodation of calling students by their last names, the school later reversed course. To fully comply, he would have to use students' preferred names and pronouns. Kluge said doing so would directly violate his deeply-held religious beliefs.
"Congress passed Title VII to prevent employers from forcing workers to abandon their beliefs to keep their jobs," Gray said in a statement to the Associated Press, as reported in Bangor Daily News. Gray added that Alliance Defending Freedom is considering next steps.
"In this case, Mr. Kluge went out of his way to accommodate his students and treat them all with respect. The school district even permitted this accommodation before unlawfully punishing Mr. Kluge for his religious beliefs," Gray added.