STARNES: Indiana Music Teacher Forced Out Over Pronoun Usage

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An Indiana high school music teacher filed his opening brief Friday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, asking for reversal of a lower-court decision that ended his lawsuit against the Brownsburg Community School Corporation.

The school district forced music theory and orchestra teacher John Kluge to resign after revoking his religious accommodation over students’ pronoun usage.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent Kluge, who taught at Brownsburg High School for four years. When the school district mandated that teachers call students by their preferred gender pronouns and names, Kluge requested a religious accommodation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to call all his students by their last names only—like a coach—instead of referring to female students with male names and pronouns and vice versa.

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The school district granted Kluge’s request based on his religious beliefs, and Kluge successfully continued teaching under the religious accommodation for an entire school year. But in response to the grumblings of a few students and faculty, the school district revoked the religious accommodation and forced Kluge to resign, ending his teaching career.

“Mr. Kluge had an excellent reputation as a fun and caring teacher, and under his skillful direction, the Brownsburg orchestra performed better than ever before. But the school district showed it didn’t care about those qualities; it was interested only in ensuring that Mr. Kluge affirmed students’ declared gender identities—even though this directly violated his deeply-held religious beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch.

“Mr. Kluge worked out a reasonable compromise with the district and received a religious accommodation, protected under federal law, to continue teaching. Yet the school district decided his religious views couldn’t be tolerated, revoked the accommodation based on the grumblings of a few, and forced Mr. Kluge to resign on pain of termination. The school district’s decision violates Title VII which makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of religion. We are asking the court to reverse this unlawful decision and rule on the side of religious freedom.”

“Mr. Kluge asked for a modest accommodation of calling all students by their last names only, which would allow him to stay neutral on transgender issues and focus on teaching music,” the 7th Circuit brief explains. “But after a handful of teachers and students grumbled about his religious accommodation, the district pressured Mr. Kluge to leave the school and—when he refused to do so willingly—revoked the accommodation, brooked no exceptions to its transgender-affirmation rules, and forced Mr. Kluge to resign or be terminated. The voices against tolerance and religious accommodation had won, even though no one in our society—in school or out—has a right to demand confirmation ‘of their beliefs or even their way of life.’”

Kluge v. Brownsburg Community School Corporation, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, challenges the legality of the school district’s decision to revoke Kluge’s religious accommodation. Under Title VII, an employer must accommodate an employee’s religious practices unless the employer can prove undue hardship, which the school district failed to do. Religious exceptions in the workplace are protected under Title VII to guard employees from unjust religious discrimination.

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