A Virginia judge ordered a Loudoun County school to reinstate a teacher who was suspended after he spoke out against a proposed policy requiring educators to address students by the pronouns that align with their gender identity.
In a ruling Tuesday, Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge James Plowman said the teacher, Byron "Tanner" Cross, was exercising his free speech and ordered the school to "immediately reinstate the plaintiff to his position as it was prior to the issuance of his suspension."
Plowman's ruling remains until a full trial can be held.
Michael Farris, president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, whose attorneys are representing Cross, celebrated the news and said the school's suspension was "neither legal nor constitutional."
"Educators are just like everybody else—they have ideas and opinions that they should be free to express," Farris said in a statement. "Advocating for solutions they believe in should not cost them their jobs. School officials singled out his speech, offered in his private capacity at a public meeting, as ‘disruptive’ and then suspended him for speaking his mind."
Cross, a physical education specialist at Leesburg Elementary School, was placed on paid administrative leave May 27, two days after he said at a school board meeting that following the proposed policy would go against his religious beliefs.
"I love all of my students, but I will never lie to them regardless of the consequences," Cross said, according to a recording of the meeting. "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 my child, it's abuse to a child and it's sinning against our God."
During the meeting, Cross referenced a "60 Minutes" episode that talked, in part, about young people who once identified as trans but changed their mind and detransitioned. He told the school board that he was "speaking out of love for those who suffer with gender dysphoria."
Two days after the meeting, Cross received a letter from the school saying he was placed on leave for allegedly engaging "in conduct that has had a disruptive impact on the operations of Leesburg Elementary School."
Langhofer lambasted the school over the suspension, saying his client's free speech rights were violated. He also filed a lawsuit against the school board and superintendents. The attorney said Wednesday that the lawsuit is pending.
The school district did not respond Wednesday to request for comment on the judge's reinstatement.
CORRECTION (June 9, 2021, 10:35 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misattributed quotations from a statement. The statement is from Michael Farris, president and CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom, not attorney Tyson Langhofer.