Virginia Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Tanner Cross

Virginia Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Tanner Cross
Virginia Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Tanner Cross

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Virginia Court Backs Christian Teacher’s Right to Speak Up for Religious Freedom

Story by Christmas Beeler

The Virginia Supreme Court this week ruled in favor of teacher and Calvary Chapel believer Tanner Cross, who took a stand for truth and religious freedom in schools last May. In fact, two more Christian teachers in the same school system have also joined him in the fight for teachers’ religious convictions and for the wellbeing of children, challenging new school policies that they believe are harmful to children.

Monday’s ruling kept Tanner’s reinstatement in place, finding that the Loudoun County School Board (LCSB) had insufficient reason to suspend him for speaking peacefully in a public meeting last May. Now Tanner and two other teachers are seeking to block the new gender-fluid policies that LCSB has since adopted.

In the Virginia Supreme Court’s explanation released Monday, Justices Kelsey, McCullough, and Chafin stated: “The [lower] court noted the Defendants [Loudoun County School Board] suspended Cross only three weeks before the end of the school year and then emailed the entire Leesburg Elementary ‘community’ to announce the suspension. To the court, these actions appeared unnecessarily extreme and vindictive.”

The Virginia Supreme Court also concluded: “[It] is settled law that the government may not take adverse employment actions against its employees in reprisal for their exercising their right to speak on matters of public concern. … The targeted speech in our case ‘did not amount to fighting words’ and were ‘not obscene’ but rather were ‘the kind of pure speech to which . . . the First Amendment would provide strong protection,’” they stated, citing a previous case. Also, in examining “the context in which Cross made his public comments and the extent to which they disrupted Loudoun County Public Schools’ ‘operation and mission,’” they also found Tanner blameless.

Tanner Cross at Podium

Tanner Cross speaks before a group. The elementary school P.E. teacher found himself in the center of controversy last May after he took a stand for biblical truth and religious freedom, opposing school board policies he believes are harmful to children. Photo courtesy of Tanner Cross

A Peaceful Protest

The story went viral in late May, after school officials suspended Tanner, a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, for sharing his concerns over a proposed gender-fluid policy during the public comment period at a Loudoun County School Board (LCSB) meeting on May 25.

In that meeting, he said, “I am speaking out of love for those who suffer with gender dysphoria. 60 Minutes, this past Sunday, interviewed over 30 young people who transitioned. But they felt led astray because of lack of pushback, or how easy it was to make physical changes to their bodies in just three months. They are now de-transitioning. It is not my intention to hurt anyone. But there are certain truths that we must face when ready. We condemn school policies like 8040 and 8035 because it will damage children, defile the holy image of God. I love all of my students, but I will never lie to them regardless of the consequences. I’m a teacher, but I serve God first. And I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it is against my religion. It’s lying to a child. It’s abuse to a child. And it’s sinning against our God.”

Two days later, on May 27, Tanner was placed on administrative leave with pay, informed that he was under investigation for conduct that had a disruptive impact on the operations of the school (the above statement), and that he was banned from all school property and events. Later that day, school officials sent an email to all school parents and staff informing them of Cross’ suspension.

The next day, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF)—a nonprofit legal defense group for religious freedom—wrote a letter to the school board demanding Tanner Cross be reinstated. The school board’s legal counsel said that Tanner had caused a “significant disruption” at Leesburg Elementary, including “multiple complaints and parents requesting that . . . Cross have no contact with their children”—two assertions that the courts later deemed unfounded.

ADF brought a suit against the school board to reinstate the ousted teacher. ADF and Tanner won, and the lower court ordered the school board to temporarily reinstate him on June 8 until December 31, 2021. In response, LCSB took the matter to the Virginia Supreme Court to try to reverse the lower court’s decision. Per Monday’s ruling, they failed. Tanner will remain reinstated with all restrictions on him lifted.

In their statements, the courts found that school officials failed to prove that Tanner Cross had caused a “significant disruption” at the school. After one or two students’ parents had contacted the school, Tanner was removed from greeting the student body in the morning and prohibited from all school events. The court found that the “adverse action is not Cross’ reassignment from greeting children but the subsequent decision to suspend him and limit his access to public school events.” They deemed that the school had no grounds for revoking his First Amendment rights in the context of events—his peaceful statement in a public forum.

Photo of Pastor Gary Hamrick

Pastor Gary Hamrick of Cornerstone Chapel, a Calvary Chapel affiliate in Leesburg, VA. Tanner Cross attends the fellowship, which has faithfully supported him throughout his struggle with the Loudoun County School Board. Photo courtesy of Cornerstone Chapel

Answered Prayer

Tanner attends Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg, VA, a Calvary Chapel affiliate under Pastor Gary Hamrick, who vocalized support for Tanner from the pulpit, met with Tanner and his wife, and supplied petitions for parishioners to sign. The pastor also came under public fire from the school board for allegedly inciting violence against school board members through those actions. Pastor Gary called the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling “an answer to prayer,” adding, “The church was in prayer for the outcome of his legal case. People also sent Tanner cards and words of encouragement.”

Citing the apostle Peter’s response when forbidden to preach the Gospel, Gary reflected, “We are living in a day when standing for the Lord is being challenged. In Acts 5:29 they said, ‘We ought to obey God rather than men,’ and that is what Tanner and others are doing today—they are in obedience to the Lord rather than man.”

Gary also cited Jesus’ words to the Church: “You are the salt of the earth. …You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13a, 14a). He explained, “That means that sometimes we will impact our culture in ways that will make it challenging for us when the culture pushes back; nevertheless, our loyalty to the Lord means that we have to continue to take a stand for what is true and right.” 

As the world’s moral code continues to deteriorate, Gary related, “I don’t think it’s going to get easier. Living out our faith will get more challenging until Jesus returns. And we must continue to run the race with perseverance and fight the good fight of our faith.”

That’s just what Tanner Cross and two of his colleagues, who are also believers, are doing. For them, the fight is far from over.

Group of Three Christian Teachers

Three Christian teachers in Loudoun County, VA, are standing against gender-fluid policies that they feel are harmful to children. From left to right: Middle school English teacher Kim Wright, elementary P.E. teacher Tanner Cross, and high school history teacher Monica Gill. The three educators are plaintiffs in a lawsuit in Loudoun County Circuit Court. Photo courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom

Believers Stand Together Against Harmful Policies

LCSB has since passed the policy that Tanner had protested. Policy 8040, “Rights of Transgender Students and Gender Expansive Students,” will “(1) allow students to use a name different than their legal name; (2) allow students to use gender pronouns different from those corresponding to their biological sex; (3) require school staff to use students’ chosen name and gender pronouns; and (4) allow students to use school facilities and participate in extra-curricular activities consistent with their chosen gender identity”—as summarized by the courts.

As of Thursday, two other Christian teachers in the county were granted permission to formally join Tanner Cross in the ongoing lawsuit against the new policy; they are standing up for the right not to be forced to call students by a name that is not consistent with their biological sex and which violates the educators’ beliefs. Loudoun County High School history teacher Monica Gill and Smart's Mill Middle School English teacher Kim Wright are now also plaintiffs in the lawsuit against LCSB in Loudoun County Circuit Court.

In fact, Monica had already been fighting against harmful indoctrination in the school system since earlier this year. Monica Gill holds a masters in American history from George Mason University and has been teaching history for more than 25 years. In April, she wrote a column for The Federalist describing how critical race theory ideologies were being forced on students and staff through mandatory teacher training in Loudoun County and how she had witnessed firsthand that these principles were harming students, causing racial divides and tension in the classroom.

Shortly after Tanner’s suspension, she spoke up at a LCSB meeting in June: “As elected officials, you are accountable to this Constitution above all else. Members of this board belong to a Facebook group that targeted parents. MSAAC [an advisory board to LCSB] tweeted, ‘We will silence the opposition’ and said teachers who question equity ‘should be dismissed.’ My colleague Tanner Cross was put on leave for expressing his religious convictions and concerns. These actions resemble totalitarianism, not the Constitution.” She concluded, “First and foremost, I am a Christian. …We will not yield. We will not let you have our souls or the souls of our children.”

In an interview this year with Joe Mobley, she urged other Christians: “This is not a time to sit on the sidelines; we all need to do our part the best we can. Every person is gifted in some way. God has gifted you in some way to be part of expanding His kingdom. You have to get in there and start.” Now is a critical time in the country for those who know what is right to take a stand, she added.

Not only are teachers compelled morally, but they are protected constitutionally. Logan Spena, legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, summarized the courts’ findings: “[T]hat no one should be punished or silenced for sharing their beliefs in a public forum, especially in regards to a policy that requires all teachers to deny truths about what it means to be male and female and say things that they believe are harmful to their students. School boards across the state and around the country should take note that public employees cannot be forced to contradict their core beliefs just to keep a job.”

In the wake of this victory, ADF is challenging the new school policy and, in the meantime, seeking a preliminary injunction so that the school cannot force Monica, Kim, and Tanner to use gender-fluid pronouns while the case remains undecided. Spena concluded, “Ultimately, we hope for a final ruling from the judge that no teacher should be forced to personally affirm ideologies that they believe will be harmful to students and violate their beliefs.”

adflegal.org

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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