Religious freedom question in Indiana: Can teacher refuse to call transgender student by preferred name?

All week, we've been talking about the U.S. Supreme Court's 7-2 decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

We've highlighted the narrow scope of the ruling in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.

We've asked the "Now what?" question.

We've even noted that while everybody has an opinion about the case, not everybody has all the facts.

I won't rehash all the crucial context and background here, so please click at least one or two of the above links if you need a refresher.

But for those who are up to speed, here's a different case that raises some similar and some totally different questions: a public school teacher in Indiana who cites his religious beliefs in refusing to call a transgender student by the child's preferred name.

The Indianapolis Star reports:

A Brownsburg teacher is fighting for his job after he says the district forced him to resign over its transgender student policy.
John Kluge, the former orchestra teacher at Brownsburg High School, said the school district's requirement that teachers call transgender students by their preferred names, rather than those given at birth, goes against his religious beliefs. The requirement, Kluge said, violates his First Amendment rights. 
"I’m being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that's a dangerous lifestyle," he said. "I’m fine to teach students with other beliefs, but the fact that teachers are being compelled to speak a certain way is the scary thing."
Advocates for the LGBTQ community say that using a person's preferred name is an issue of respect, not religion or politics. 
"This is not a request for advocacy," said Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, a national nonprofit focused on suicide prevention in LGBTQ youth. "This is a request for respect."

Phillips, of course, declined to use his creative talents to design a special wedding cake for a gay couple. He cited his Christian belief in marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman. He owns a private business.

Kluge, on the other hand, works for a public school district. I'd be interested in whether church-state scholars believe he has a legitimate constitutional argument. 

The Star doesn't quote any such scholars, but its story is solid — giving ample space to Kluge's own words while reflecting other relevant sources and offering important facts to help readers understand the specific circumstances.

From the story:

The Indiana Family Institute, a conservative nonprofit that promotes religious liberty and opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, has started a letter-writing campaign to support Kluge. The group is urging people to email every member of the Brownsburg school board and ask them to save Kluge's job. 
"It appears that the real intolerance at Brownsburg High School lies in the hands of the administration against teachers who hold a sincere faith and a sacrificial love for their students," the form letter reads in part. 
The disagreement between Kluge and the district is over a requirement that teachers call transgender students by their preferred name reflecting the gender with which they identify, rather than the name given to them at birth. Students cannot request this change until they have written consent from a parent and doctor, according to an internal document posted online by the Indiana Family Institute. 

Keep reading, and there's this added intrigue:

Kluge said he was uncomfortable with this, feeling that using the preferred name implied agreement with the student's decision to identify as transgender. Kluge said that even though he doesn't agree with some of his students' decisions, he respects them. 
"I really do care for all of my students," he said, "which is why I don’t want to be compelled to speak in such a way that I believe I’ll be encouraging them in something that’s dangerous."
Instead, Kluge said he reached an agreement with school administration that allowed him to call all students — those who identify as transgender and those who do not — by their last name. Kluge said it seemed like a fine compromise. He did not explain to students why he only used last names this past year. 
"I wanted to present an environment where I wasn’t going to push one way or the other," he said.
A few months ago, Kluge said he was informed that he would not be allowed to use last names only starting next school year. He said the administration did not say why it was making this change. 

It's a fascinating scenario, part of a litany of gay rights vs. religious liberty debates that this week's SCOTUS decision did little to quell.

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