John Kluge Indiana teacher loses appeal after courts uphold Brownsburg High School right to force educator to use transgender preferred pronouns. Music teacher argued religious discrimination.
Define the separation of church and state? A federal appeals court has determined an Indiana high school broke no law by allegedly pushing a music teacher to resign for refusing to use transgender students’ new names and pronouns.
The rights of Brownsburg High School’s orchestra teacher, John Kluge, were outweighed by the potential disruption of the school’s learning environment, the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
The decision from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a prior ruling in the case by a federal judge.
In making the educator’s case, Kluge argued the district’s policy to honor students’ names and pronouns went against his religious beliefs.
According to court records, John Kluge was hired in 2014 as the music and orchestra teacher for Brownsburg High School about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of Indianapolis.
At the start of the 2017 school year, the district began instructing high school teachers to use the names and pronouns listed for students in the school’s official database — where changes were authorized with letters from a student’s parent and a doctor.
On the first day of classes, Kluge voiced his discomfort, and cited his Christian beliefs to the school principal, prompting district officials to allow him to call students by their last names.
But the attempt to accommodate Kluge came with consequences.
At least two transgender students said the teacher’s refusal to use their first names was hurtful and singled them out in front of classmates.
Kluge’s choice was also met with criticism from other students, teachers and counselors — who told district officials they felt uncomfortable in Kluge’s classroom.
Following the complaints, the school backtracked and allegedly urged Kluge to quit.
Kluge resigned in 2018 after he was told he’d be fired if he didn’t address students properly, according to court filings.
Employer not necessarily compelled to accommodate worker religious beliefs
Kluge in 2019 sued the school for religious discrimination, accusing it of violating a federal law prohibiting workplace discrimination based on religion, and sought reinstatement and unspecified monetary damages.
Under federal law, employers are only required to accommodate workers’ religious beliefs if it doesn’t cause undue hardship.
While Kluge argued calling students by their last names wouldn’t be a burden on the school, the Chicago-based 7th Circuit disagreed, upholding an Indiana federal judge’s dismissal of the case.
The appeals court noted the district tried to accommodate Kluge’s religious objection, but realized his use of last names ‘resulted in students feeling disrespected, targeted, and dehumanized, and in disruptions to the learning environment.’
‘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 classes and in the school generally, and for faculty,’ the opinion read.
Kluge’s attorney, Rory Gray, who works for the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, said the legal group is considering its next steps.
‘Congress passed Title VII to prevent employers from forcing workers to abandon their beliefs to keep their jobs,’ Gray said in a statement. ‘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.’