A judge has ordered the reinstatement of a Virginia teacher previously fired for controversial statements he made. The 20th District Court of Virginia ruled that Loudoun County teacher Byron “Tanner” Cross should be restored to his position as a teacher and be permitted to set foot on school property once more. The decision followed Cross suing the county’s school board after his unlawful termination for saying that he will not address students by their preferred pronouns.
Judge James E. Plowman Jr. ruled in favor of Cross and granted an injunction sought by the teacher. The magistrate wrote in his June 8 decision that he sided with Cross as the latter’s rights to speech and religious freedom played a key role in the case. According to Plowman, Cross’s remarks are counted as protected speech under the First Amendment because he spoke “as a citizen” on a “matter of public concern. Furthermore, the school board failed to prove that the teacher’s remarks caused any significant disruption to school operations.
In his June 1 lawsuit, the Leesburg Elementary School physical education teacher argued that the Loudoun County School Board is penalizing him for exercising his First Amendment rights. Cross dubbed his suspension by the school board as “an act of retaliation” that “adversely affected [his] constitutionally protected speech.” Conservative nonprofit group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) aided Cross in his lawsuit – with ADF attorney Tyson Langhofer representing the teacher in court.
He later defended his stance at a June 4 rally: “I went to [a] school board meeting and respectfully objected to two proposed policies. When I spoke, I was thinking about my values, my students, my parents and my fellow teachers. The truth is I’m not alone. Many of us are concerned that [the] proposed policies would harm students and require us to violate our beliefs by saying things that are not true.”
ADF President and CEO Michael Farris lauded Plowman’s June 8 decision. He remarked that many other teachers “have shared their beliefs on various policies without retaliation” and Cross deserved that same treatment. “Nobody should be punished for expressing concern about a proposed government policy, especially when the government invites comment on [it],” Farris said.
Cross’s suspension stemmed from his disagreement with proposals for transgender students. The plans involved bringing transgender medical treatments into local Virginia schools. They also mandated teachers to use the chosen pronouns of transgender students – regardless of their biological sex. During a school board meeting, the teacher said he would not call transgender students by their chosen pronouns.
Cross cited his deeply held religious beliefs for his objection: Calling transgender students by their chosen pronouns was inconsistent with their biological sex, he said. He told the school board: “I’m a teacher, but I serve God first. I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it’s against my religion. It’s lying … [and] abuse to a child, and it’s sinning against God.” He added: “I love all of my students, but I will never lie to them regardless of the consequences.”
The school board promptly suspended Cross and banned him from visiting school property after his comments. An attorney for the defendants said the Leesburg Elementary School principal had to terminate Cross due to fears of backlash from parents. They added that five parents already asked the principal to remove their children from Cross’s classes in the span of 48 hours.
The counsel for the school board also alleged that Cross’s remarks disrupted and adversely affected the school’s environment. Meanwhile, the school board refused to comment on its suspension of the teacher and the lawsuit he subsequently filed.
However, it appeared that Cross is indeed not alone in opposing the school board’s policies for transgender students. The Daily Mail reported that parents and other teachers stood by Cross in defending the First Amendment. Mother-of-three Rachel Pisani said: “When I saw a teacher express an opinion and [get] suspended for expressing his religious beliefs, I could no longer stay silent. When did it become appropriate to silence those that hold Christian [and] biblical views just because you don’t?”
Two educators also voiced out their opposition to Cross’s suspension. Teacher Jeremy Wright echoed Pisani’s remarks about free speech, having previously called the school board fascists. “Here is your assignment with a copy of the First Amendment attached. I’m going to leave this here and I hope you learn something,” he remarked as he left a copy of the First Amendment on the podium.
Monica Gill, another teacher, called the school board’s suspension of Cross resembled “totalitarianism.” She said: “First and foremost, I am a Christian. We live in truth, not lies. We look at character, not skin color.” Gill warned the board: “Know this: We will not yield. We will not let you have our souls or the souls of our children.”