Standing for Truth
By Christmas Beeler
A Calvary Chapel pastor and a member of his church in Virginia have drawn fire from the Left, making national news for taking a stand for children, their faith, and the First Amendment.
Pastor Gary Hamrick of Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg, VA, was recently accused by Democrats of inciting violence for speaking in his church against elementary teacher Tanner Cross’s suspension. The teacher, a member of Cornerstone Chapel, was suspended for sharing his concern in a public meeting that a proposed gender-fluid policy would be harmful to children and also violated his religious beliefs.
Ironically, the two men have broken no law—as the policy Tanner spoke against is only a proposed policy, and Pastor Gary did not actually incite his church members to commit acts of violence but gave them an opportunity to peacefully sign a petition at their discretion.
In a Loudoun County School Board meeting on May 25, the public was invited to share their opinions on two proposed school policies—a common practice required by law in such meetings. The policies would require teachers to address students with their chosen pronouns rather than the ones consistent with their biological sex.
Tanner Cross, a teacher at Leesburg Elementary, approached the offered microphone and respectfully explained his concern for students who struggle with gender dysphoria and about being forced to violate his beliefs. He said, “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’s 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, the school informed Tanner in a letter that he was being placed on administrative leave “pending an investigation of allegations that [he] engaged in conduct that had a disruptive impact on the operations of Leesburg Elementary School.”
Fighting Back, Peacefully
The next day, Friday May 28, the case went viral, as Tanner’s suspension for his beliefs was reported nationwide on FOX News. Many Americans were shocked that a teacher could be suspended merely for sharing his personal thoughts and beliefs in a public forum.
That day, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys sent a letter to the school board “explaining that placing Cross on leave and barring him from campus because of his constitutionally protected speech constituted illegal retaliation. ADF requested that the school reinstate Cross, rescind the suspension and remove the letter from his file, and refrain from any future retaliation against protected speech if the district wished to avoid legal action,” according to an ADF press release.
Church Unified in Support
Hearing about the suspension, Pastor Gary Hamrick of Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg shared his support for Tanner’s stance from his pulpit on Sunday, May 30: “We’ve got to take back our schools. What are we to do? Are we to just throw up our arms and surrender and retreat and let our country and our county and our kids be taken over by progressive, liberal, Marxist ideology? This is just out of control. Somebody steps up, [exercising their] free speech, lovingly talks about how by his faith he has to be true to reality, and for that, he’s placed on administrative leave.”
Since the incident had occurred in their community and involved their children, the congregation was given the opportunity to sign a petition calling for certain members of the school board to be recalled. In a televised interview, Pastor Gary recalled, “I told our congregation, ‘If you don’t feel led to sign them, don’t. But if you do, here’s your opportunity to let your voices be heard to try to recall some of these school board members.’ … People stood up, applauded, excited to retake ground that’s been lost. It’s time to reclaim the land … in a loving and truthful way and lift up our voices.”
The Battlefield Expands
Incensed that a pastor would speak out against the school board in his pulpit, Loudoun County officials retaliated publicly that same Sunday. They released a statement later in the day, and the entire story was again picked up by national conservative news outlet The Daily Wire, which reported the next day (Monday, May 31) that the Loudoun County Democratic Committee on Sunday, May 30, released a statement targeting [Pastor Gary] and demanding he “recant” his “inflammatory and insidious remarks.”
The letter also accused Gary of “invoking the name of God to incite political action,” adding that they were “deeply concerned about the consequences of such rhetoric, having witnessed a recent rise in threats to the … School Board members.” The letter continued, “We call on Pastor Gary Hamrick to recant his allegations due to the libelous and inflammatory nature of the remarks. Unfounded statements such as these not only hurt our community that he is meant to serve but have dangerous ramifications for the incitement of violence.” The story spread like wildfire across the internet and made national headlines.
Time for Legal Action
Since the school board refused to rescind their suspension, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) —representing Tanner Cross—filed a lawsuit against Loudoun County Public Schools on Tuesday, June 1.
“Public schools have no business compelling teachers to express ideological beliefs that they don’t hold, nor do they have the right to suspend someone simply for respectfully providing their opinion at a public meeting,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “The school district favors a certain set of beliefs on a hotly contested issue, and it wants to force Tanner to cry uncle and endorse them as well. That’s neither legal nor constitutional, and neither was the school’s move to place Tanner on leave.”
That same day, June 1, Pastor Gary, Counselor Langhofer, and Tanner Cross appeared on a public podcast, Washington Watch, with Tony Perkins, talking about the case. Langhofer explained: “Teachers don’t shed their constitutional rights when they step onto schoolhouse property. In this case, he wasn’t even on schoolhouse property. He went to a public meeting where the school board invited the public to come comment on proposed policies not even passed yet. They should be welcoming teachers’ comments, not punishing them for simply sharing their views.”
A National Perspective
Why is this case so important to our nation right now? The attorney explained, “This is unfortunately a pattern we’re seeing across the country with school boards. Frankly, this is the school board’s way of sending a message to other teachers that if you speak out, you’re going to be punished. That’s wrong, because there are a lot of teachers that have spoken at board meetings in the past in favor of these policies, and they haven’t been punished. People on both sides of the aisle should be able to speak their mind; and especially teachers when we’re talking about policies that are going to affect teachers’ rights and are also going to affect how students are treated in the classroom.”
Tanner added, “We shouldn’t have to check our faith at the door. We just feel that whether you disagree or agree, we should just freely speak to one another and be civil.”
Counselor Langhofer observed, “Over the last 20-30 years, you’ve seen many more people buy into this notion that [believers] are supposed to give up their faith in order to serve in office. But that’s clearly not what the First Amendment says. The First Amendment, including the Establishment Clause, says that government is supposed to be neutral towards religion; they cannot be hostile towards religion. But what we’re seeing is a hostility toward those of religious faith, whether Christians or others. Everyone should be free to live out their faith, and their jobs shouldn’t [be at stake]; they shouldn’t be punished for simply exercising their faith or speaking their mind, as Tanner did.”
Bold for the Truth
Pastor Gary said, “This is what living out your faith is all about. It is applying what we know to be true from God’s Word to everyday life. Here it is, and we have to be ready to be salt and light in our community.”
He added, “Today, pastors have been reluctant to speak out because … we’re afraid of losing money and people, so we become intimidated to stand for the truth. What I have found is that the more that I just lovingly tell the truth and share God’s Word, people are hungry for that. It’s actually had the opposite effect: People are coming because they want to know: ‘Somebody please tell me the truth in a very relative world.’”
As leaders and as Christians, Gary said, “We have to lead the way. We’re going to get some pushback. I’ve already gotten quite a bit of hate mail, but I’ve also gotten tremendous encouraging emails and phone calls. We just can’t remain silent. Our congregations are looking to us to step it up and be examples of godliness in a very relative world; if we don’t do it, who will? Please, pastors, rise to the occasion and be loving, truthful leaders.”
Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. James 1:21-22
Pastor Gary is hosting a rally for Tanner Cross at Cornerstone Chapel tonight, June 4, at 6 p.m.
Staff writer Margot Bass contributed to this report.
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.
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