Educators Standing for Free Speech in Schools
In the past year, we’ve seen a wave of disturbing information come out of school board meetings.
Public officials are pushing radical curriculum on students, often against parents’ wishes and sometimes even behind their backs.
School officials are blatantly violating students’ and teachers’ right to free speech.
It’s becoming clear: anti-free speech policies and extreme political indoctrination are no longer isolated on elite college campuses. They’re spreading, even to K-12 public schools.
Thankfully, many heroic teachers and professors are speaking out.
And Alliance Defending Freedom is proud to represent several of these educators as they challenge unfair, unconstitutional policies in court.
Get to know them below. Or, take action and stand for free speech during this critical time with your best gift.
Tanner Cross, Physical Education Instructor
Tanner Cross is a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School in Loudoun County, Virginia.
As a former football player, he has a passion for teaching P.E. He cares about his students.
So, when the school district proposed a policy he thought would be harmful, Tanner decided to speak up. The Loudoun County School Board was considering a policy that would compel teachers like Tanner to ignore students’ biological sex and refer to them with whatever terms they request, even if that means calling a male student “she.”
Tanner knew that this policy could harm his students. So, he attended a public comment period of a school board meeting in his personal capacity and voiced his opinion.
Less than 48 hours later, Tanner was placed on administrative leave. All for speaking up about a proposed policy! That’s censorship. “I expected more from a public school here in the United States, where our right to speak freely is protected under the First Amendment,” Tanner said.
And he should. The right of all Americans to freely voice their opinions is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
So, with the help of ADF attorneys, Tanner filed a lawsuit against the school district. The trial court quickly reinstated Tanner so he could continue to teach while his lawsuit moved forward. After the Virginia Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s order, the Board agreed in a settlement to make the reinstatement permanent.STAND WITH TANNER
In the meantime, the school board adopted the harmful policy that Tanner courageously spoke against.
This meant two things. First, teachers like Tanner who disagreed with the policy were going to be compelled to speak messages against their deeply held beliefs. And, second, students struggling with their identity would be pushed into greater confusion by their teachers’ use of nonbiological pronouns.
This was unacceptable to Tanner. So, he and two of his colleagues—Monica Gill and Kimberly Wright—decided to challenge the policy itself. Although Tanner won his reinstatement, the three teachers’ challenge to the policy continues.
Read Monica’s and Kimberly’s stories below.
Monica Gill has been teaching history and government to high school students for over 27 years.
She is dedicated to instilling her passion for history in her students. But even more importantly, Monica is dedicated to caring for her students. So, when Loudoun County School District passed a new policy that would force her to violate this commitment, Monica knew she couldn’t stay silent.
Loudoun County’s policy compels teachers to speak against their beliefs by requiring them, upon request by a student, to address that student with pronouns in conflict with that student’s biological sex. It requires teachers to adopt controversial gender ideology in their classrooms by forcing them to participate in students’ gender confusion.STAND FOR FREE SPEECH IN CLASSROOMS
There is mounting evidence from experts that putting students who struggle with gender dysphoria on the path to experimental surgery and cross-sex hormones is harmful and have potentially irreversible effects.
Monica has taught many students suffering from gender confusion over the years and has had a great relationship with them. Monica’s number-one priority is always her students’ education and well-being.
But school board officials’ have put ideology ahead of the needs of students and the teachers who serve them. Not only that, but they are violating teachers’ constitutional right to speak according to their beliefs.
That’s why Monica is joining Tanner Cross in challenging this policy in court.STAND WITH MONICA
When Kim Wright was a child, she looked up to her mother who was an art teacher. Today, Kim follows in her mother’s footsteps as an English teacher at Smart’s Mill Middle School.
As an English teacher, Kim knows the importance of words and their meaning. She cannot speak messages with which she disagrees.
But this is exactly what Loudoun County School District is asking her to do. The district just adopted a new policy that will compel teachers to speak words contrary to their beliefs. The 2021 policy forces teachers like Kim to refer to students using pronouns that do not match their biological sex—or face punishment.
This hurts teachers by violating their free speech rights, and it is also harmful to their students’ wellbeing.
Kim is joining Tanner and Monica in suing Loudoun County School District. Will you stand with Kim, Tanner, Monica, and others like them whose free speech is being stifled and help to provide them with the strong legal defense they need?STAND WITH KIM
Peter Vlaming, High School French Teacher
Peter Vlaming fell in love with the French language in seventh grade. “There are things that you can express in French that you can’t express as well in English,” he said.
He moved to France for 11 years where he met his wife and studied at the University of Paris. Up until recently, he served as a French teacher at West Point High School in Virginia.
Peter Vlaming shared the language he loves with his students—speaking all of its beautiful words and phrases. But when he was placed on administrative leave and then terminated by the school board in 2018, it was because of what he didn’t say.
The whole ordeal started when one of Peter’s favorite students decided to identify as the opposite sex. Peter did everything he could to accommodate this student. He used the student’s preferred traditionally-masculine name, while avoiding the use of pronouns altogether.
Eventually, the school administration heard about Peter’s attempt to respect this student while also respecting his own conscience. Unsatisfied, the school administration demanded Peter use male pronouns when addressing this female student—even when students were not present.
This was not an option for Peter, who is a devout Christian. He couldn’t use language—something he loves—to betray his own beliefs about objective reality. And he paid a heavy price.
What the school board demanded of Peter was compelled speech—and that’s unconstitutional. So ADF filed a lawsuit on Peter’s behalf.STAND WITH PETER
Dr. Allan Josephson, Professor of Psychiatry
Long before K-12 school districts began adopting ideological policies on gender, colleges were actively embracing those policies in violation of professor’s free speech rights.
Dr. Josephson was the Chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Louisville for almost 15 years. He had a distinguished record of excellent leadership and earned perfect marks on his 2014, 2015, and 2016 annual reviews.
Then suddenly, in November 2017, the university demoted Dr. Josephson to the role of junior faculty member. For a year, university officials harassed Dr. Josephson in a variety of ways. Then in February of 2019, the university announced that it would not renew his contract, a highly unusual decision meaning the university effectively fired him.STAND WITH DR. JOSEPHSON
Was it something he said? Yes, actually it was.
In October 2017, Dr. Josephson appeared on a panel of experts at the Heritage Foundation entitled “Gender Dysphoria in Children: Understanding Science and Medicine.” There, Dr. Josephson expressed his opinion that medical professionals treating children with gender dysphoria should first seek to understand underlying psychological issues before pursuing more radical, aggressive treatments like life-altering hormone therapies.
Some of his colleagues disagreed with this view and, instead of engaging him in an academic debate, they called for the university to take action against Dr. Josephson. And the University of Louisville, which claims to celebrate diversity of thought, heeded their calls by removing him as Division Chief, harassing him, and later firing him.
But everyone has a right to free speech.
That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is representing Dr. Josephson in a lawsuit against officials at the University of Louisville.STAND FOR FREE SPEECH
Dr. Nicholas Meriwether, Professor of Philosophy
In January 2018, Dr. Meriwether responded to a male student’s question with a simple, “Yes, sir,” as he has done for decades.
He was taken aback when that student approached him after class.
The student informed Dr. Meriwether that he identified as a woman and demanded the professor refer to him as one, with feminine titles and pronouns. When Dr. Meriwether respectfully declined, the student became aggressive, circling around him, getting in his face, and even threatening to get Dr. Meriwether fired.
The student filed a complaint with the university, which launched a formal investigation.
As a Christian, Dr. Meriwether believes that God created human beings in his image, as male and female—and that God does not make mistakes. To call a man a woman or vice versa would be to say something that is not true. It would also endorse an ideology that conflicts with his philosophical and religious beliefs and that he does not believe to be true.
So, Dr. Meriwether proposed a compromise: he would refer to the student by a first or last name only and avoid the use of titles or pronouns. This is a perfectly reasonable compromise that shows courtesy to the student while also respecting Dr. Meriwether’s freedoms.
But that wasn’t enough for university officials. They demanded that Dr. Meriwether express ideas that he does not hold and that violate his faith or face the consequences.
This is a blatant violation of Dr. Meriwether’s constitutional rights, including his right to free speech, so ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit against officials at Shawnee State University.STAND FOR FREE SPEECH
Free speech matters
Schools and universities are supposed to be places where students learn.
That’s why it is vital that the freedom of speech thrives in these places. Being able to openly express our opinions and debate with others who disagree is how we grow in knowledge.
Unfortunately, many of these schools are becoming echo chambers of one type of thought—especially when it comes to the debate on gender identity.
And this echo chamber is no longer confined to college campuses. It’s spreading to school districts across the country. School boards are adopting policies that require teachers and students to promote an ideology they may disagree with. And these governing bodies will not tolerate any dissent.
Those who voice alternative opinions—like Tanner Cross—are shut down.
Not only is free speech necessary for a good education, but it’s also a core value of our Constitution and republic.
No American—let alone a professor or teacher—should be forced to choose between their freedom of speech and their career. Your gift is crucial to fueling a strong legal defense for the ongoing fight for free speech.FREE SPEECH IS WORTH DEFENDING
Parents and Teachers stand up against harmful indoctrination in schools
In 2021, Loudoun County School Board dominated the news. And not only with Tanner Cross’s story of being punished after simply voicing his concerns.
School Board administrators were caught downplaying and even outright denying records of disturbing events in the county’s schools. Events that highlighted the board’s harmful policies on gender ideology.
Then, during the Virginia’s Governor’s race, candidate Terry McAuliffe insisted that “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” This comment rightfully angered parents in Virginia and around the country.
It shouldn’t even have to be said: Parents are the first teachers of their children, and they absolutely have a right to be involved in their child’s education.
Unfortunately, the goal of many progressive ideologies such as the aggressive curriculum on sex in Loudoun County, seems to be to separate children from the support system of their parents.
Parents and teachers are standing up.STAND WITH PARENTS AND TEACHERS
This isn’t a new issue. Far from it. Alliance Defending Freedom has been representing educators standing up to this ideology—including Peter Vlaming—for years.
We know that these policies go beyond pronouns. They implement a radical agenda that denies reality, science, and the best interests of all students, including those experiencing gender dysphoria.
Are you with us?
You can help us protect free speech in public schools.
ADF attorneys are working to protect the rights of teachers, students, and parents in court. As a non-profit, we rely solely on the donations of people like you to make this happen.
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