In its Aug. 30 decision, the SCV ruled that rights guaranteed in the state's constitution – which included the right to petition and the right to peaceful assembly – also applied to Cross. "[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 high court said.
The Aug. 30 ruling followed the footsteps of a lower court ruling that mandated Cross's reinstatement. Judge James E. Plowman Jr. of the 20th District Court of Virginia granted an injunction sought by Cross, who challenged his suspension in court. In his June 8 decision, Plowman said Cross's remarks are considered protected speech under the First Amendment since he spoke as a citizen on a matter of public concern. The circuit court judge added that Cross's rights to free speech and religious freedom played a key role in the case.
LCPS suspended Cross from his duties at the Leesburg Elementary School following remarks he made during a May 25 school board meeting. The teacher said he would not call transgender students by their chosen pronouns, which went against a mandate by the school district. Cross cited his deeply held religious beliefs for objecting to the preferred pronouns mandate.
"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. I love all of my students, but I will never lie to them regardless of the consequences," Cross said.
Cross later defended his stance during 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," he said.
On the other hand, LCPS argued that Cross's comments caused a disruption. Five parents also reached out to the principal of Leesburg Elementary School, requesting that their children do not interact with the suspended teacher. However, both Plowman and the SCV argued in their decisions that the alleged "disruption" was insufficient to merit Cross's suspension. (Related: Judge orders reinstatement of Virginia teacher fired over comments against transgenders.)
Following Plowman's ruling in favor of the suspended teacher, LCPS said in a statement that it "respectfully disagrees" with the circuit court judge's decision. It added that it would appeal Plowman's decision to the SCV.
The LCPS statement noted that while the district respects employees' rights to freedom of speech and religion, "those rights do not outweigh the rights of students to be educated in a supportive and nurturing environment." It continued: "Many students and parents at Leesburg Elementary [School] have expressed fear, hurt and disappointment about coming to school."
An LCPS spokesman later said the school system has no comment on the Aug. 30 ruling. But lawyer Stacey Haney, who represented LCPS, had a different take on the matter. She argued that existing school board regulations already banned discrimination based on gender identity. Haney continued that Cross's refusal to use transgender children's preferred pronouns articulated "a defiance to follow existing school policies."
Lawyer Tyson Langhofer of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) welcomed the state high court's Aug. 30 ruling. He said: "The lower court's decision was a well-reasoned application of the facts to clearly established law, as the [SCV] found." Langhofer represented Cross in the initial lawsuit the latter filed against the school system.
ADF President and CEO Michael Farris earlier emphasized that educators exercising their First Amendment rights do not deserve suspension or termination. "Dozens of other teachers have shared their beliefs on various policies without retaliation. Tanner deserves to be treated with the same respect," he said. (Related: Parents who spoke out against critical race theory curriculum now being harassed by leftist groups.)
GenderConfused.com has more stories about Byron "Tanner" Cross and other teachers refusing to lie through preferred pronouns.