John Kluge

Religious freedom question in Indiana: Can teacher refuse to call transgender student by preferred name?

Religious freedom question in Indiana: Can teacher refuse to call transgender student by preferred name?

All week, we've been talking about the U.S. Supreme Court's 7-2 decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

We've highlighted the narrow scope of the ruling in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.

We've asked the "Now what?" question.

We've even noted that while everybody has an opinion about the case, not everybody has all the facts.

I won't rehash all the crucial context and background here, so please click at least one or two of the above links if you need a refresher.

But for those who are up to speed, here's a different case that raises some similar and some totally different questions: a public school teacher in Indiana who cites his religious beliefs in refusing to call a transgender student by the child's preferred name.

The Indianapolis Star reports:

A Brownsburg teacher is fighting for his job after he says the district forced him to resign over its transgender student policy.

John Kluge, the former orchestra teacher at Brownsburg High School, said the school district's requirement that teachers call transgender students by their preferred names, rather than those given at birth, goes against his religious beliefs. The requirement, Kluge said, violates his First Amendment rights. 

"I’m being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that's a dangerous lifestyle," he said. "I’m fine to teach students with other beliefs, but the fact that teachers are being compelled to speak a certain way is the scary thing."

Advocates for the LGBTQ community say that using a person's preferred name is an issue of respect, not religion or politics. 

"This is not a request for advocacy," said Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, a national nonprofit focused on suicide prevention in LGBTQ youth. "This is a request for respect."

Phillips, of course, declined to use his creative talents to design a special wedding cake for a gay couple. He cited his Christian belief in marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman. He owns a private business.

Kluge, on the other hand, works for a public school district. I'd be interested in whether church-state scholars believe he has a legitimate constitutional argument. 

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