Christian Teachers Reinstated After Refusing to Follow Gender Pronoun Policy

Christian Teachers Reinstated After Refusing to Follow Gender Pronoun Policy

A federal judge ordered a San Diego-area middle school Jan. 10 to reinstate two teachers who were placed on paid administrative leave in May for refusing to follow the school district’s policies on gender pronouns and parental notification.

Lori Ann West and Elizabeth Mirabelli, teachers at Rincon Middle School in Escondido, California, initially filed a lawsuit in federal district court last May, after the school allowed them a religious accommodation only for how they addressed trans-identifying students, but not for the school’s parental notification policy, which prohibits teachers from informing parents of a student’s gender identity preferences.

On Sept. 14, a federal district court issued a preliminary injunction in the case, paving the way for West and Mirabelli to return to work. But the school district didn’t heed the order, the teachers’ attorneys say. 

The teachers, who are represented by the law firm of LiMandri & Jonna along with the Thomas More Society, filed a federal civil contempt lawsuit Dec. 6 against their school, the school district and the state board of education in the U.S. Court, Southern District of California. It alleges that the school district is guilty of “violating the Court’s preliminary injunction order by not reinstating them in their regular job duties.”

According to Paul Jonna, special counsel representing the teachers, West and Mirabelli obtained “religious accommodation” to not be forced to say a student’s preferred pronouns and name, but that accommodation did not apply when it came to notifying the parents of what was happening with their children.

“It put me in a situation which takes us to the issue of faith,” Mirabelli said. “I have some core beliefs that are based on the Judeo-Christian tradition. I’m really clear about certain things that are right and wrong, and one of those things would be withholding material information about the welfare of a child from their parents. I was unwilling to do that.”

The initial federal lawsuit in May contends that the school district’s actions violate Mirabelli’s and West’s First Amendment rights, including free speech and freedom of religion.

In an interview with Fox News, West said the policy functioned as if the school wanted “to be the parent,” and added that, as a mother, she would not want that for her children. She also said that she believes her Biblical worldview played a role in the school’s actions against her. “I believe in the teachings of the Bible,” she said. “[Mirabelli and I] follow the laws in the Bible, and that’s a wonderful thing. And it seems like, at my school, we have been put down for that. They want to stifle our voices.”

Arielle Del Turco, director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, told The Washington Stand, “Being required to use a student’s preferred gender pronouns and then lie to parents about their children’s gender presentation at school poses a serious challenge to a Christian teacher’s freedom of conscience. The First Amendment protects Americans’ freedom to believe and to speak and act in a way that is consistent with those beliefs.”

Del Turco concluded, “It’s good to see that Lori Ann West and Elizabeth Mirabelli are challenging their school and the state of California’s policies that infringe upon their faith. It’s not easy to be the first to stand up and challenge these kinds of violations of conscience in the court system. It takes courage, but courage is always required to make a difference.”

Meanwhile, California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) insisted last week that the state’s constitution would allow schools to hide student’s preferred names or pronouns from parents. As part of his statement, Bonta warned California districts against any policy that required a teacher to notify a parent of a student’s gender identity, as it would “violate state law.”

Photo: Courtesy of Thomas More Society

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