A Virginia elementary school teacher who was suspended last month for speaking against a proposed policy requiring teachers and students to use transgender-affirming language must be reinstated, a state judge ruled on Tuesday.
Judge James E. Plowman of the 20th Judicial Circuit of Virginia granted Bryon Tanner Cross’ request for a temporary injunction against the district’s decision to place him on administrative leave. In his ruling, Plowman seemingly scolded the Loudoun County School Board for not only suspending Cross without sufficient reason, but for violating Cross’ constitutionally protected speech in the process.
Cross, who teaches physical education at Leesburg Elementary School, told citizens gathered at a May 25 public forum to discuss the proposed policy that as a Christian he could not utter what he deems to be falsehoods about gender and sex.
“My name is Tanner Cross, and I am speaking out of love for those who suffer with gender dysphoria. I love all of my students, but I will never lie to them regardless of the consequences.
“I’m a teacher, but I serve God first and 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.”
On May 27, the school district, claiming his words had a “disruptive impact” on the school, placed him on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into his speech at the meeting. In response, Cross filed a lawsuit against the school district, alleging “viewpoint-based retaliation.”
Alliance Defending Freedom President Michael Farris, whose organization represents Cross in his suit, said, “We are pleased at the court’s decision to halt Loudoun County Public Schools’ retaliation against Tanner Cross while his lawsuit continues.… School officials singled out [Cross’] speech, offered in his private capacity at a public meeting, as ‘disruptive’ and then suspended him for speaking his mind. That’s neither legal nor constitutional.”
Farris added that dozens of other teachers have publicly shared views on various issues, and Cross deserves the same protection.
The district’s proposed policy would require teachers and students to “allow gender-expansive or transgender students to use their chosen name and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity without any substantiating evidence, regardless of the name and gender recorded in the student’s permanent educational record,” a draft of the policy says.
Teachers or students who “intentionally and persistently” use the wrong name or gender pronoun would be violating the policy.
In his ruling, Plowman wrote that the district’s contention that Cross’ words disrupted the school’s operations was an insufficient reason to suspend him. Additionally, Plowman wrote, court precedent favors Cross’ free speech rights, where during the meeting he spoke not in his official capacity but as a citizen using the same forum and “the same process to speak as any other citizen” on a “matter of public concern.”
Further, the judge reasoned, “Upholding constitutional rights serves the public interest.”
“The Court finds that the Plaintiff’s speech and religious content are central to the determination made by the Defendants to suspend Plaintiff’s employment,” the judge wrote, thereby justifying a temporary injunction on behalf of Cross.
Franklin Graham, writing on Facebook the day of the decision, said: “Tanner’s Alliance Defending Freedom attorney is exactly right—‘Public schools have no business compelling teachers to express ideological beliefs that they don’t hold, nor do they have the right to suspend someone simply for respectfully providing their opinion at a public meeting.’ Continue to pray for Tanner and other teachers as an anti-biblical agenda tries to push them to go against their faith and convictions. Praise God for Christian teachers!”