“The 7th Circuit’s recent verdict highlights the pressing need for the Supreme Court to revise the standard for accommodating religious employees,” stated Rory Gray, the attorney representing John Kluge.
Kluge, a former Brownsburg High School teacher in Indiana, departed from the institution in 2018 due to a disagreement with the school’s policy mandating the use of transgender students’ preferred names and pronouns rather than their birth names.
The Chicago-based Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled on Friday that Brownsburg High School did not violate any laws when it revoked a religious accommodation that allowed orchestra teacher John Kluge to refer to students by their last names, as a coach might. This revocation allegedly led to Kluge’s departure from the school.
An Indiana federal judge’s ruling dismissing John Kluge’s lawsuit was upheld by Friday’s verdict.
Kluge’s lawsuit argued that using last names exclusively did not impose any burden on the school. His demands reportedly included unspecified financial compensation and reinstatement to his former position.
The ruling read, in part: “Brownsburg has demonstrated as a matter of law that the requested accommodation worked an undue burden on the school’s educational mission by harming transgender students and negatively impacting the learning environment for transgender students, for other students in Kluge’s classes and in the school generally, and for faculty.”
“Stigmatized the transgender students and caused them demonstrable harm.” argued Judge Rovner.
According to Reuters, Circuit Judge Ilana Rovner argued that the exclusive use of last names “stigmatized the transgender students and caused them demonstrable harm.”
On the other hand, Circuit Judge Michael Brennan dissented, stating that it was “unclear whether the school could have mitigated any disruptions resulting from Kluge’s conduct.” He believed that the question of potential rights violations should be decided by a jury.
Kluge claimed that he resigned after being informed of his impending termination. While the school initially agreed to let him call students by their last names as a religious accommodation, it later reversed course. To comply fully, Kluge would need to use students’ preferred names and pronouns, which he refused to do as it directly conflicted with his deeply held religious beliefs.
Rory Gray, the lawyer representing John Kluge, stated in a statement to the Associated Press, as reported in Bangor Daily News, that “Congress passed Title VII to prevent employers from forcing workers to abandon their beliefs to keep their jobs.” Gray also mentioned that Alliance Defending Freedom is considering their next steps.
“Mr. Kluge went out of his way to accommodate his students and treat them all with respect,” Gray added. “The school district even permitted this accommodation before unlawfully punishing Mr. Kluge for his religious beliefs.”