Ohio public school teacher forced to resign for declining to ‘put religious beliefs aside’
AKRON, Ohio – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed suit in federal court Monday on behalf of an Ohio teacher challenging the Jackson Local School District’s application of an unconstitutional policy requiring teachers to personally participate in the “social transition” of students who express a gender identity inconsistent with their sex by using the students’ preferred names and pronouns.
Vivian Geraghty taught English at Jackson Memorial Middle School in Massillon until district officials forced her to resign in August because she wanted to refrain from speaking in a way that would violate her religious beliefs. Geraghty’s sincerely held religious beliefs and scientific understanding govern her view that a person is male or female based on sex, not personal identity, and participating in a student’s social transition violates those beliefs by forcing her to communicate messages she believes are untrue and harmful to the student.
“No school official can force a teacher to set her religious beliefs aside in order to keep her job. The school tried to force Vivian to recite as true the school’s viewpoint on issues that go to the foundation of morality and human identity, like what makes us male or female, by ordering her to personally participate in the social transition of her students. The First Amendment prohibits that abuse of power,” said ADF Legal Counsel Logan Spena. “Jackson Local School District officials nonetheless forced Vivian to resign because she resisted this unconstitutional command and explained that it was her Christian faith that made her unable to participate in her students’ social transition.”
The controversy began when two students asked Geraghty to participate in their social transition. This included using new names to reflect a new asserted gender identity for both students and using pronouns inconsistent with one student’s sex. The school counselor e-mailed Geraghty and several other teachers with instructions to participate in the students’ social transition. In response, Geraghty approached the principal with the hope of reaching a solution that would allow her to continue doing what she had always done: teach her class without personally affirming as true things that she believes are false and harmful.
The principal and his superior, the school district’s director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, told Geraghty that “she would be required to put her beliefs aside as a public servant,” that her unwillingness to participate in a social transition in violation of her faith amounted to insubordination, and that continuing to teach consistent with her beliefs would “not work in a district like Jackson.” Further, the officials told Geraghty that, if she would not participate in the students’ social transitions, she must resign immediately.
Geraghty said that she believed forcing her to resign violated her rights under the First Amendment, but the principal reiterated his stance that, as a public servant, she must “set [her] religious convictions aside,” and that if she was unable to do so, she had no choice but to resign. The director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment then handed Geraghty a laptop and ordered her to draft her letter of resignation in the adjoining room for immediate submission.
“Jackson Local School District officials require their teachers to immediately and personally validate a child’s gender transition even if doing so violates their religious beliefs, conscience, or sound judgment,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Increasing evidence suggests that this approach may lead adolescents to unnecessarily pursue dangerous medical interventions like puberty-blocking drugs, cross-sex hormones, or life-altering surgeries. Vivian treated every student with equality and respect, and it was unlawful for school officials to terminate her employment simply because she wanted to avoid using her voice to validate ideas that violate her faith and jeopardize her students’ wellbeing.”
ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Geraghty v. Jackson Local School District Board of Education, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division.
- Pronunciation guide: Spena (SPEE’-nuh); Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to protecting First Amendment and related freedoms for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.
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