Loudoun County teacher Tanner Cross spoke up at a school board meeting against a proposal to force transgender medical treatments into local schools, and was suspended. Rather than accept the unfair targeting, Cross is suing the district with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom.
“That is a clear and unqualified violation of the First Amendment,” noted ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Bangert. “All citizens have the right in the First Amendment to speak their mind about proposed government policy. We have the right to redress grievances with our government. We have the right to speak freely on issues of public concern. And that’s all Mr. Cross was doing.”
After using his free time to speak at a public meeting, Cross was suspended from his job and banned from school property. To Bangert, it is clear that Cross was punished due to his beliefs: “The school district retaliated against him purely because he exercised his First Amendment right to speak on an issue of public importance that is being hotly contested across the country.”
Bangert noted the rule applied to Cross in suspending him for speaking out was not in place at the time of the suspension, meaning Cross was not proposing to break school policy, but combatting a suggestion before it went into place.
“Any teacher, any citizen who speaks their mind at a public board meeting on an issue of public concern like this and suffers punishment at the hands of the government, that’s an affront to the Constitution regardless of what’s being debated. From a very base level, this offends the right to free speech,” Bangert said.
Bangert said the district’s retaliation against the teacher for exercising his rights doesn’t only violate the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, but also its protection of Americans’ right to freely exercise their religious beliefs.
“It’s very clear that Mr. Cross spoke based on his religious conviction, and he is being discriminated for that,” he expressed. “No one who spoke on the other side of the issue, no one who is supporting these proposals is being punished, but Mr. Cross is. It’s viewpoint discriminatory and it’s also targeting him for his faith.”
“The school system doesn’t have the authority to tell citizens, including teachers, they have to take one side of the debate or sit down and shut up on pain of potentially losing their job,” Bangert noted.
When asked about the connection between this case and the broader trend of using the separation of church and state to justify excising voluntary expressions of religion in public schools, Bangert expressed that the issue goes beyond the public school system.
“That’s a world where freedom of speech can’t exist, if we’re in a world where people can be targeted and punished for what they believe, speaking in a public forum,” he said.
He expressed the importance of individuals bravely taking risks to fight “respectfully” but decisively for what they believe in order to protect American freedoms: “It takes brave people like Tanner Cross who are willing to step forward to speak freely about difficult issues.”