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Supreme Court of the United States

Being Good at Your Job Is Not Enough for This School District

By Sarah Kramer posted on:
October 4, 2021

For one school district in Indiana, it’s not enough that teachers excel in their classrooms. It’s also not enough that they show true care and concern for their students.

No, the school district is demanding much more than that: full allegiance to and endorsement of a political ideology. And it will accept nothing less.

Understandably, this didn’t sit well with one teacher. But after he worked out a common-sense compromise with the school district—one that honors his students as well as his own beliefs—he lost his job because those who disagreed with his beliefs didn’t believe in compromise. That’s why he is taking a stand.

Let’s take a deeper look at his case.

Who: John Kluge

John Kluge was hired as a music and orchestra teacher at Brownsburg High School in 2014. From 2014 to 2018, he taught beginning and advanced-placement music theory classes; conducted the high school’s beginning, intermediate, and advanced orchestras; and assisted with the middle school orchestra’s rehearsals. John also occasionally taught piano lessons.

During those four years, John received positive written evaluations and always met or exceeded the expectations that were set for him. Both parents and students alike thought highly of John, calling him an “excellent” and “wonderful” teacher. They also characterized him as kind and fair—someone who truly cares about his students.

But that wasn’t enough for school district officials.

What: Kluge v. Brownsburg Community School Corporation

In 2017, the Brownsburg Community School Corporation announced that it would be implementing a new gender-identity policy. Under this policy, all teachers and staff would be required to refer to students who identify as transgender with their preferred name and pronouns.

Even before he started working at Brownsburg High School, John had developed his beliefs surrounding gender identity and dysphoria through studying the Bible. As a Christian, John believes that God created two sexes, male and female—a biological reality that can’t be changed. He also believes it would be wrong and sinful for him to lie about and promote an ideology to his students that would ultimately harm them.

When he brought his concerns to the high school principal, he was initially given three options:

1. Comply with the policy;

2. Voluntarily resign; or

3. Be fired.

That’s not much of a choice. And, ultimately, John was suspended pending his termination.

In a follow-up meeting, John came to the school district officials with a compromise: He would refer to students by their last name only, and another staff member would be assigned to hand out gender-specific uniforms. This compromise treated all students fairly while also respecting John’s beliefs.

The school district accepted these terms, and during the 2017-2018 school year, everything went smoothly. The orchestras performed well in competitions, and John’s students excelled on their AP music-theory exams.

Yet, in December 2017, the high school principal informed John that some people were complaining about John’s religious accommodation to the gender identity policy. In that meeting, the principal encouraged John to resign at the end of the year. And in January 2018, the school district announced updates to its gender identity policy, stating that “no exceptions” would be allowed the next school year.

School officials continued to pressure John to resign at the end of the year—going so far as to threaten to cancel his summer pay if he didn’t. That’s why, at the end of the year, John submitted a conditional resignation while he thought about the situation. But when he tried to rescind it, the district refused to let him, and the school board voted to accept that resignation.

At that point, John knew he had to take an even bigger stand.

When: 2018 – Present

With the help of an ADF Allied Attorney, John filed a lawsuit against the school district in the summer of 2018. But the trial court declined to protect his right to religious freedom.

That’s why ADF attorneys have appealed his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

Where: Brownsburg, Indiana

Brownsburg, Indiana is located approximately 15 miles outside of Indianapolis.

Why: To protect the right of all people to live and work consistently with their beliefs

Public schools have a duty to reasonably accommodate their employees’ religious beliefs. That means they must respect the religious freedom of their teachers. Yet, after initially agreeing to a sensible accommodation that respected everyone’s beliefs, this Brownsburg school district changed its policy to do the exact opposite: It forced teachers to be mouthpieces for a political agenda that violates their beliefs and harms students.

The Bottom Line

Educators are just like the rest of us. They have thoughts, opinions, and beliefs. Even when we disagree, we need to support the right of others to live and work consistently with their beliefs without fear of losing their job.

Sarah Kramer

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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