On Tuesday, Virginia's highest court upheld a lower-court ruling that ordered the reinstatement of Tanner Cross (pictured above), who made headlines in May after confronting the Loudoun County School Board over a proposal that teachers must use a student's preferred pronoun(s). Cross said publicly that he could not do that, citing his religious beliefs about gender.
American Family News talked with attorney Logan Spena of Alliance Defending Freedom, the law firm representing Cross.
"The original order that reinstated Tanner Cross was a temporary order while his lawsuit against the school continues, and he's also asked the court to amend his complaint," explains Spena.
"He wants to add in some allegations to his lawsuit to address the policy, [because] when he originally filed the lawsuit the policy hadn't even been adopted yet – [but] school officials suspended him for criticizing a policy that wasn't even in place. Since that time, they've gone ahead and adopted the policy."
As to Tuesday's ruling, Spena contends the Virginia Supreme Court got a lot of things right. "But one of the most important things I think was rejecting the school's claim that a few complaints by a few parents caused enough disruption to allow them to suspend a teacher for speaking at a public school board meeting," he says.
In its decision, the court wrote that school officials were minimizing the importance of Cross's speech rights and trying to overstate how much disruption they caused.
"What really happened was a few parents complained after he exercised his constitutionally protected rights to speak to his elected officials about a policy they were considering – and they suspended him just on that basis," the attorney explains.
"So, the Virginia Supreme Court strongly stated that citizens, including public employees, have the right to express their views about policies that are under consideration to their elected officials, and the government cannot retaliate against them for doing that."
Meanwhile, Spena says teachers don't have to leave their rights at the schoolhouse door.
"The next part of Tanner's case is going to be about that policy and saying that even though the school has some leeway in adopting policies for what goes on at school, they can't compel teachers to say things that they believe are not true or harmful to students – as the policy does when it compels teachers to use pronouns that are inconsistent with a student's biological sex."
At least two additional teachers in Loudoun County have joined Cross as plaintiffs. A court will hear motions on the new claims and teachers on Thursday (September 2).