The right to freely exercise your religion doesn’t end when you enter the workforce. But some school boards are threatening this freedom by attempting to force teachers to contradict their own faith by expressing the school's preferred viewpoint on specific, fundamental issues.
Vivian Geraghty experienced this problem firsthand when Jackson Memorial Middle School instructed her to participate in a student’s decision to ‘change their gender’ by using pronouns that do not align with the student’s sex. She asked to keep teaching her class without violating her religious beliefs, but she was punished with the loss of her job.
Who is Vivian Geraghty?
Vivian Geraghty is a recent college graduate who began teaching English at Jackson Memorial Middle School in Massillon, Ohio, in August 2020. Vivian was always able to do her job while staying true to her religious beliefs. But in 2022, something changed.
After a school official instructed Vivian to participate in the social transitions of her students, she went to the principal to voice her concerns, hoping for a collaborative discussion. Instead, she experienced a blatant violation of her First Amendment rights.
In August 2022, two of Vivian’s students requested that she call them by names that were inconsistent with their sex and were different than their legal names. A school counselor sent an email to Vivian and several other teachers instructing them to go along with the students’ requests and personally facilitate their social transition.
For Vivian, this would mean directly contradicting her own religious beliefs about what it means to be male and female—beliefs rooted not just in her Christian faith, but also in biological reality. It would also mean directly engaging in a form of psychiatric intervention and actively reinforcing her students’ identities that were in conflict with their sex.
Vivian approached the school principal hoping to find a solution in which she could keep teaching without violating her religious beliefs. The principal informed her that he simply refrained from using any pronouns to refer to students who express gender identities inconsistent with their sex, and he said he would investigate the matter.
A Jackson Local School District board member soon joined the principal, and they called Vivian back into the office. After she informed the two that her religious beliefs guide her views about sex and gender identity, they told her that “she would be required to put her beliefs aside as a public servant.”
Vivian explained she could not put her beliefs aside as a condition of employment—and she shouldn’t have to according to the First Amendment.
The school officials violated the First Amendment and refused to work with Vivian at all. They told her that if she would not participate in the social transition of her students, her only option was to resign. Within two hours of the time Vivian expressed her concern about the policy, they handed her a laptop and ordered her to resign. Then they escorted out of the building.
In December 2022, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of Vivian. The case is currently awaiting hearing at a federal district court in Ohio.
What’s at stake?
Vivian cannot be forced to violate her beliefs to keep her job. A win for Vivian would ensure that school officials can’t punish teachers for holding personal beliefs on issues like sex and gender identity that differ from their own.
The First Amendment guarantees all Americans the freedom to exercise their religion without punishment from government officials. Officials at Jackson Local School District blatantly ignored that freedom.
- August 2022: Vivian told the school principal her concerns about a school official instructing her to address students with names and pronouns that were inconsistent with their sex. Within two hours, she was forced to resign and escorted off campus.
- December 2022: ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of Vivian.
- Currently: The case is awaiting hearing at a federal district court in Ohio.
The bottom line
Schools can’t force teachers to set their religious beliefs aside in order to keep their jobs. Teachers should be able to live and work freely without being forced to speak in ways that violate their beliefs.