Written by 4:42 am In the News

Teacher fights religious bias

Attorneys representing former Indiana high school music teacher John Kluge have filed a motion, asking a federal district court to protect his religious freedom after he was forced to resign for abiding by his beliefs.

In July, the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit vacated the district court’s decision against him in Kluge v. Brownsburg Community School Corporation and sent the case back to the district court to be reconsidered in light of the US Supreme Court’s recent decision in Groff v. DeJoy.

Kluge taught at Brownsburg High School for four years. In 2017, the school district mandated that teachers refer to transgender-identifying students using pronouns and names inconsistent with their sex.

Kluge requested a religious accommodation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to call all his students by their last names—like a coach—instead of referring to female students with male names and pronouns and vice versa. The school district granted Kluge this accommodation, and he successfully continued teaching under it for an entire school year.

But in response to the grumblings of a few students and teachers, the district revoked the accommodation and forced Kluge to resign, ending his teaching career.

“Federal law protects employees’ ability to live and work according to their religious beliefs. Yet the Brownsburg school district ignored the law, deciding Mr. Kluge’s religious views couldn’t be tolerated, revoked his religious accommodation based on the grumblings of a few, and forced him to resign or be fired,” said ADF Senior Counsel Travis Barham.

“The school district’s actions violate Title VII, a federal law prohibiting discrimination against employees on the basis of religion. As the Supreme Court recently affirmed in Groff, employers must accommodate employees’ religious practices unless doing so imposes undue hardships on their overall operations. We urge the court to apply Groff to uphold Mr. Kluge’s right to religious accommodation under Title VII.”

“[Mr. Kluge] earned a reputation as a fun, engaging teacher who genuinely cared about his students, and the orchestra performed better than ever. But these results were not the school district’s highest priority. It cared more about ensuring he endorsed students’ declared transgender identities by using their preferred names and pronouns,” the brief in support of the motion for summary judgment filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, explains. “No one—in school or out—can demand affirmation ‘of their beliefs or even their way of life,’ and employers who act with or acquiesce to religious hostility violate Title VII.”

Michael Cork, one of nearly 5,000 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network, is serving as local counsel on behalf of Kluge.

(Picture Courtesy: Alliance Defending Freedom)

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