Calling Students by Their Preferred Name Is Not Violating Your Freedom of Religion

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There have been several high-profile conflicts between the LGBT community and the religious right. Whether it’s a religious baker refusing to create a cake for a gay wedding or a state clerk refusing to issue a marriage license for a gay couple, many people have taken issue with accommodating the rights of the LGBT community under the guise of religion.

The debate has now made its way down to the schools.

A teacher in Brownsburg, Indiana is at odds with a new district policy. Brownsburg Community School Corporation adopted a new policy that allowed transgender students to change their name and gender in the school system with the permission of a parent and a medical professional. Under the new policy teachers were to refer to students by that name.

One teacher, John Kluge, took issue with the new policy. He did not want to call transgender students by their chosen names as he believed it encouraged a lifestyle against his religious beliefs:

“I’m being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that's a dangerous lifestyle," Kluge told the IndyStar. "I’m fine to teach students with other beliefs, but the fact that teachers are being compelled to speak a certain way is the scary thing."

Kluge believed that the policy violates his First Amendment rights.

He is wrong.

The First Amendment gives you the right to practice your religion in the United States without persecution. It does NOT give you the right to discriminate against others especially for doing something they are legally allowed to do. So if being transgender truly offends Mr. Kluge’s religious sensibilities, then he has every right to not be transgender. That’s where his rights on the subject end. He can’t decide that he doesn’t want to use a transgender’s person chosen name because he doesn’t personally believe in switching between masculine or feminine names.

Furthermore, in what job is it acceptable to pick and choose which names you use and don’t use? If a student who was not transgender chose to change his or her name to another name because of a marriage or religious reason, would it be acceptable to not call them by their new name? Changing one’s name is not limited to the LGBT community, so it shouldn’t be an issue for anyone religious or otherwise.

The latest precedent set in a case that pitted LGBT rights against religious preferences wasn’t necessarily a victory for the LGBT community. In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the supreme court ruled in favor of the bakers who refused to make a cake for a gay wedding. The decision didn’t find that people had the right to discriminate against LGBT persons just that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was hostile to the beliefs of the baker by forcing him to attend training. It did not address the wider issue: whether or not a business can refuse service to gay people.  

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed the potential complexities in balancing First Amendment rights with LGBT rights… Kluge’s complaint will never see the Supreme Court. His gripe is not legitimate nor is it complicated. Being referred to by your chosen name is a basic courtesy afforded to all Americans. That doesn’t change just because someone is trans.

John Kluge has since resigned from his position.   

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.