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07/13/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Tanner Cross is a physical education teacher in Loudoun Country Public Schools, Virginia. After speaking out against transgender policies at a public school board meeting, he was soon put on administration leave. Cross and his legal representative are taking the case to Court to defend the basic right to religious freedom under the First Amendment. To learn more about Tanner’s case, please visit: https://adflegal.org/tanner-cross/donate

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Transcript:

Jeff King: Welcome to Into The Deep, we’ve got a fascinating interview today. We’ve got Tanner Cross and Tyson Langhoffer, his legal representative, and this is a fascinating case that really gets into much broader issues involving freedom of conscience and workplace, and religious freedom. This is complicated, but oh my gosh, this is compelling. So gentlemen, thank you for making time, and thanks for being on Into The Deep.

Tanner Cross: No problem. Thanks for having us on, Jeff.

Jeff King: You betcha. So Tanner, do me a favor, before we get into the actual, you were at a board meeting and you made comments and then everything started from there, but give me some background, who are you? You’re obviously a teacher, but give us a little background on what happened prior to this board meeting that led up to this?

Tanner Cross: My name is Tanner Cross. I’m a physical education teacher here in Virginia for Loudoun County Public Schools. In the Fall, I had a friend notify me that it was something very concerning about some policies that would be harmful to children, and that’s what led me to speak at the school board meeting.

Now don’t get me wrong, I had to do my research and realize where these proposed policies were coming from, and it’s from the State of Virginia. So my faith felt like it was going to be compromised, and I would have to compromise, and I just felt God pushing me not to compromise, and there was just so many messages from pastors and the community members here. And just listening to everybody, as well as my own feelings, and know that God made man and woman, and that’s pretty much, that’s it, there’s nothing inside and out of that, I feel very convicted not to spread the lies or misinformation from the enemy. So I just finally decided to go to the school board and oppose those two proposed policies that I believe would be harmful to children. Also, it would be harmful to teachers as well, because again, it would be forcing teachers to lie, and that would be sinning against God.

Jeff King: Yeah. And so let’s just back up a little, and Tyson, you obviously jump in here, I know you’re here for a reason, I want you here. So if there’s anything tricky, you just jump in, you can answer. But what were the two policies? What were you hearing was coming down the line?

Tyson Langhofer: So I’ll kind of summarize real quick. Basically, the policies would do several things. First, that they would require all students and teachers to address what they define as gender expansive students with any pronoun, or any title, that the student demands. So we’re not just talking about calling a male a female, but we’re also talking about using things like ze and zir, and this whole panoply of new pronouns that essentially communicate the message that we as individuals get to define our own gender, that there is something other than the two biological sexes. So that’s one thing.

The other thing is it would allow students, or would force schools to allow students, to use whatever bathroom they choose to use, so allow biological males into biological female bathrooms, and also allow biological males to compete against females in female athletics. Those are the three things, essentially, that the policies would do, and those were the concerns that Tanner saw with the policy. And he believed that they were both going to be harmful to teachers because we would force them to say things they believe are untrue, and also be harmful to students by affirming things that are not true, and by putting girls in situations where they would have biological males in their sleeping areas when they’re on overnight trips, in their bathrooms, in their locker rooms, and taking positions on their sports teams.

Jeff King: Yeah. And the toughest one for me, and maybe for you, Tanner, too, is just that control of your speech and your thought, that it seems like the government’s really crossed into an area where it has no business being, where it’s like, “Hey, we’re going to control the way you think, what you say, the way you interact with individuals.” It just seems Maoist at a level, and in some ways that’s what we’ve got. We’ve got a very high control, very reactive political climate, and they’re tamping down and saying, “You can say this, and you can’t say that,” but not even political statements, it’s just drilled down really to personal choice and how you interact in the world. It seems a little crazy, just to back you up, I think I would react too.

Tanner Cross: Yeah. I mean, faith aside, we’re just talking about biological facts and science here, that there’s only male and female. And on the government side, like you were saying, Jeff, I believe they have crossed the line, obviously, and it’s just unconstitutional to silence people or punish them for using their First Amendment rights at a public hearing where I was asked in the community to come and speak at.

Tyson Langhofer: Yes.

Jeff King: My gosh. Absolutely. I mean, that’s a whole nother level. So come give us feedback, you as a teacher, speaking for yourself, and look, we all have friends that are teachers and if they’re of faith, they already feel completely muzzled. It’s not really constitutional. It’s the political winds and the current judicial trends, but they’re completely muzzled. They’re completely looking over their back, am I going to get shot? Well here, so they have a public hearing and say, “We want to get feedback,” you as a teacher, come, not just for yourself, I assume, but speaking for others, you know other teachers that are thinking the same thing, and you give feedback, and you said, basically somewhat, “The emperor has no clothes here.” And what did they do? They chopped off your head. Is that a fair summary of what happened?

Tanner Cross: Sure, absolutely. And I find it in very influential to what other folks really suffer in other countries. It just, here I was stating facts, again, it was biological and scientific facts, and this would also violate my faith to call a boy a girl, and a girl a boy. And also let boys change in girl’s locker rooms that are biological boys and vice versa. And I also just think it’s wrong for boys to compete in girls sports because they have stronger bones, denser tendons, and stronger ligaments too. It’s just such an unfair advantage.

Jeff King: Of course, yeah.

Tanner Cross: Young ladies, I believe, are losing scholarships because of that.

Jeff King: Of course, yeah. And what did we just see in the Olympics? I’m trying to think which transgender athlete, the Olympic commission said we’re not going to do that, they finally woke up and said this is completely unfair. So apparently that was one of the things you were punished for, voting and thinking like the International Olympic Commission. So, what happened afterwards? So again, you’re invited, you’re at a public hearing, “Please, everyone, we’re the school board, give us feedback.” You gave us feedback, maybe it was heated, maybe it wasn’t, but anyways, you’re asked to express your opinion, you do so, what happens afterwards?

Tanner Cross: After I spoke with the school board that night, I went in and worked a full day the next day, and I played skee-ball with my students and had a blast. And then I go home and I get a call from the HR department saying they want me to come into a meeting the next morning. I went into the meeting the next morning, and that’s when they gave me a letter that said that I was a disruption to Leesburg Elementary, and it was putting me on administrative leave. After that, we were shocked, so then we decided to write a letter demanding my job back, and they doubled down and said no.

Tyson Langhofer: Yep.

Jeff King: So, okay, and then afterwards, of course, you were catapulted to the national stage because this is a thing that a lot of people feel strongly about, right, left, theologically, faith, non-faith groups. I mean, everyone’s got a voice in this. And so anyways, you’ve kind of catapulted to the national stage, everyone’s been interested in this, fair to say?

Tanner Cross: Yeah, I think everybody’s been interested in this, and folks are starting to wake up to, again, policies that could be harmful to their children, whether it’s sports or locker room, safety issues in the locker room. And it comes to my faith, it’s not about me, and you mentioned that earlier, Jeff, I’m thinking about my students and I’m also thinking about other staff members as well. You shouldn’t be punished for using your First Amendment rights at a public hearing.

Jeff King: Absolutely.

Tyson Langhofer: I think the reason why this has really gotten national attention is because this is not an ideological issue. This is an issue about whether teachers have the right to participate as citizens in the political process regarding policies that are going to affect them and their students. And essentially Loudoun County is saying no, that if you do this and we don’t like your opinion, we have the right to punish you. And there’s a national debate going on right now about what it means to be a male, what it means to be a female, how do we deal with students that are struggling with gender dysphoria? What are the appropriate policies? And what Loudoun County is trying to do is shut down that debate before it even gets started. They’re trying to send this shot across the bow, saying, “You disagree with our position, you are eliminated from the debate.”

That’s not America, that’s not constitutional. Teachers are just like everybody else. They have opinions, they have beliefs, and they should have the right to share those beliefs, and they shouldn’t be shut out of public schools simply because other parents disagree. And we had about 400 students in the school, we had five parents that disagreed with Tanner, just said, “We disagree. We like Tanner. He’s been great to work with. Our kids love him, but we disagree, therefore he should be banned from class.” That can’t be-

Jeff King: Can’t be.

Tyson Langhofer:

The case, that cannot be, it would completely destroy public schools if five parents could eliminate a teacher who they just simply disagree with on an important political topic.

Jeff King: Yeah. It just seems like so much in keeping with the times and cancel culture, and leadership at a government level and different levels, they’re all just running scared and completely scared for their own jobs, so the slightest discontent, they’ll overreact. So here we’ve got, I’m sure, a very strong employee, I mean, a great track record, no issues. And this, it really comes down in my mind, now you’re the lawyer Tyson, but in my mind, this is so completely egregious. For one, you just nailed it, it’s like, they’re asking for the public to express views. He is a public person. He can get up and give his own views. And what did he do? They chopped off his head, and not only that, took away his job.

But the other one, again, even more dangerous one maybe, it’s just that we’re going to control your use of pronouns. This is a little crazy. So, go ahead and jump on that, Tyson.

Tyson Langhofer: Yeah. Well, I mean, so we have to go back, we. had to step back and say, why are they trying to control the use of pronouns? It’s because pronouns communicate a message. It’s not just about a pronoun. It’s about an ideological viewpoint, right?

Jeff King: Yes.

Tyson Langhofer: That’s why. If it didn’t communicate anything of value, then they wouldn’t care, but it clearly does. And what it does is it communicates what you believe about us as humans. Are we embodied humans? Did God create us male and female? Or can we dictate who we are? And so when you force somebody to speak a message that core, that’s contrary to the First Amendment. The First Amendment both prohibits the government from stopping you from speaking because of your content, but it also prohibits you from being forced to speak something you disagree with. And the Supreme Court has held, numerous times, that teachers don’t forfeit their First Amendment rights when they go into the public schools, neither do students. And this isn’t about an issue of curriculum or anything like that, this is about a teacher expressing his personal opinion about the value of a policy in a public forum. And that has to be protected. If teachers can’t do that, they have no First Amendment rights.

Jeff King: Absolutely. Yeah. And also, it just touches on a much bigger thing that’s going on politically with the current administration, with what’s going on in Congress, in different legislation, of course you’re aware of, where the LGBTQ special interest groups are quite willing to gut the Constitution and to say they’re going to take away our constitutional protections and freedom of speech for religious issues, and they’re saying, it doesn’t matter, this special interest trumps everything. And am I getting that right, Tyson?

Tyson Langhofer: Yeah, absolutely they are. That’s exactly right. I mean, the Equality Act does exactly that. The Equality Act would put those protected classes about everything else. It would strip the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of any value. It would strip the free exercise clause in the First Amendment of any value, it would remove all protections for religious organizations, and place this in this super category of untouchable characteristics, and essentially saying that you cannot live consistently with your conscience, and that’s wrong.

Again, we’re a pluralistic society. We have all kinds of different views, and we should be free to express those views and to live consistently with our conscience. This is not just a principle that protects Christians and others of faith, it protects everybody. If they can punish Tanner for simply speaking his views, they can punish the other side, and that’s not right. Everybody should have the right to express their opinion about important public policy. That’s what the Constitution protects, and that’s what Tanner is fighting for, the right for everybody to express their views in a public forum without fear of punishment.

And I think that’s so important, especially in this context, look at what students are being told. They’re being told, “If you don’t like somebody, all you got to do is complain, and you can get them fired.” That’s the wrong lesson that our schools should be teaching. School boards like Loudoun County should be saying, “Hey, it’s okay to have debate. It’s okay to have different opinions.”

Jeff King: Isn’t this is what academia is all about? It’s a free exchange of ideas? And to wrestle for truth?

Tyson Langhofer: Absolutely. And, and just last week, Jeff, the Supreme Court issued an opinion in which it said that our schools are the nurseries of democracy.

Jeff King: Okay.

Tyson Langhofer: And those nurseries will not be able to be effective if we eliminate, or unless we protect, the marketplace of ideas. So what they’re saying is, these nurseries need the variety of ideas to come together so that we can wrestle with those ideas, and then as a society, figure out what are the best approaches, what are the best ways to move forward?

Jeff King: Yeah. And you know, it’s unfortunate, I get the left-right debate on this, because the LGBTQ, which a certain portion of the population, not just the LGBTQ population, but a much broader on the left, would feel this as an embattled, a press group. I totally get that. But it’s frustrating, or it’s sad to see, that this is viewed as a left-right issue, because what we’re talking about is not about that issue so much, as you’re pointing out Tyson, look, this is really about fundamental rights, and with religious freedom, think about this, you’ve alluded to all this, religious freedom means you have freedom of thought, conscience, speech assembly. It’s an amalgamation of rights, and it’s such a potent package of rights that the founder said this is sacrosanct and must be protected at all costs for these very reasons.

And the founders knew our human nature, right? They said, look at a base level, we are all so judgmental, and we will always use power to oppress, given the chance, that’s the nature of human beings and government. Government is dangerous, power is dangerous, and so we have to protect each other, we have to protect everybody from each other. So we can’t allow one certain group, it doesn’t matter what the group is or what the issue is, we can’t destroy the core of the Constitution, the core of our freedoms, for a current issue du jour. Am I getting that right?

Tyson Langhofer: Absolutely, Jeff. And one of the things that people don’t really understand, especially non-religious people, is that fundamental freedoms travel together.

Jeff King: Yes.

Tyson Langhofer: You will never find a society that protects freedom of speech that also doesn’t protect freedom of religion. If it suppresses religion, it will suppress your speech.

Jeff King: That’s right.

Tyson Langhofer: So if you care about your speech, and your ability to speak, then you should care about religious people even if you disagree with them, and even if you believe that their religious views are abhorrent. Because the bottom line is, the majority doesn’t need their speech protected, right? The majority protects their own speech, it’s the minority speech, the speech that we’re uncomfortable with, that needs protecting.

Jeff King: Yeah. Very fair. You know it’s interesting too, what I always share with people is, look, overseas, when you’re dealing with dictators and despots and those who hate religious freedom, they’ll all say, “Oh, by the way, we have religious freedom.” And now, what that means, now in the subtext is, you can say anything you want in your home, Tanner, by the way, but in the public forum, sorry, that doesn’t work. So you are free to think what you want, do it in the privacy of your home, don’t associate with anybody, don’t make comments in the public square. And that’s where too many have got this wrong in the United States, they’re completely off, there’s been tons of bad judicial decisions. It seems like lots of them are now getting righted, and we’re kind of wrestling through these very tough issues at a higher judicial level and they’re getting squared away, some of them.

So, but that’s what they do overseas, they say, “Oh yeah, you have religious freedom, just not here, or not in this context,” or sorry, but anyways, it’s all facade, and the left on this country has no idea what they’re doing, that they’re doing exactly the same thing, and this destruction of religious freedom is such a dangerous thing, because it’s whoever holds power can then oppress those they don’t like, and then the Constitution is gone, and then it’s just a grab for power.

Tyson Langhofer: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, growing up in the eighties, the Cold War, I mean, I didn’t really understand that the Soviet Union had a Constitution and it actually protected the freedom of religion, but it did exactly what you said. You stay inside your church, you will not do anything outside your church, it will all be inside. And so everything that your religion compels you to do, how you live your life, is a coherent hole. Tanner is not just a Christian when he’s in church, he’s a Christian in school as well. And he has to be able to live consistently with his faith, just like I have to be, and you have to be able to live consistently with your conscience.

So all Tanner is saying is, “Please let me live consistently with my conscience. I will treat all my students with dignity and respect. I love all my students. I just don’t want to be forced to say things I don’t think are true.” And I think that’s something we can all agree on. None of us want to be forced to say things that we believe are untrue, or that violate our conscience.

Jeff King: It seems pretty basic. So, tell me what’s happened, I know there’s been, I mean, right in the last couple of days, there’s been a very interesting development, but just walk us through, legally, what’s happened, Tyson.

Tyson Langhofer: So after, as Tanner indicated, we wrote a letter, they doubled down, so we had to file a lawsuit. We filed a lawsuit and we had a hearing several days later asking the court to reinstate Tanner. Thankfully, the court reinstated Tanner immediately, and Tanner went back in and was able to have a good last week with his students. Again, just as before, there was no disruptions, he was able to carry out his duties as he always did.

But, unfortunately, the school has decided to appeal that decision, so they’ve appealed the injunction decision through the Virginia Supreme Court. We filed our response to that motion yesterday, so now we’re just waiting for the Virginia Supreme Court to make their decision on that. And then we’re still proceeding at the trial court, there’s still a trial left to be had, that was just a temporary decision by the court, so the trial will be scheduled probably sometime in September. And we’re hopeful that the court enters a final judgment in favor of Tanner, and basically says, look, all teachers have the right to speak their mind freely in a public forum and they shouldn’t be punished otherwise. And I know Tanner, he can talk about it himself, and I know he’s looking forward to just getting back to business as usual. He loves being-

Jeff King: Being a teacher.

Tyson Langhofer: He’s a great one.

Jeff King: Okay. And if you could dumb the legal arguments down, just what does this boil down to on the legal arguments? And does the school board have a leg to stand on here?

Tyson Langhofer: So, we made two primary arguments, that by the school punishing Tanner, for speaking at the meeting, that they violated his freedom of speech, and free exercise of religion under the Virginia Constitution.

Jeff King: Hard to argue, it seems.

Tyson Langhofer: Yeah. And so, essentially what we’ve said is the government, it’s very long established that the government cannot retaliate against somebody for speaking a message, and that’s what they did. And so the argument is that, essentially again, they violated those two rights because the speech, obviously because he spoke, but also because his speech expressed his religious beliefs, and his desire to live consistently with his religious beliefs, that’s why it would be both of those. So essentially, the court found that there was a substantial likelihood that we would prevail on those two claims and gave the injunction.

Jeff King: Yeah. And where do you think it goes from here? What do you suspect the outcome will be?

Tyson Langhofer: Well, it’s hard to obviously predict what’s going to happen, but obviously we feel very strongly that Tanner’s rights had been violated, and we’re hopeful that the court will issue a judgment in his favor. But you know, there’s another issue still on the horizon, Jeff, and that’s the issuance of the policy. They have indicated that they’re going to enact the policy, and that they will not be including any sort of accommodation. And this is what’s important for your viewers to understand, there is an accommodation, Tanner is willing to call these students by whatever name they choose, and would just avoid the use of any pronouns, so wouldn’t say something that they disagree with, he wouldn’t be forced to say something he disagrees with. And that’s a great accommodation, and again, he’s going to treat all these students the same as any other student, he just doesn’t want to say something and with. So, that’s looming out there.

Jeff King: He’s just rejecting the thought control.

Tyson Langhofer: Exactly. And so that’s looming there, but we’re hopeful. We have another case, we represent a professor in Ohio, who was punished for a very similar thing, and we won at the Sixth Circuit. The Sixth Circuit found that he had alleged sufficient claims for violation of his speech and free exercise to proceed, and they gave a great opinion, showing that teachers don’t give up those rights, and that they should be able to consistently speak according to their beliefs. And so we’re hopeful that the Virginia Court will do it as well, and that Tanner can go back to doing what he does best, which is teaching the students how to be healthy and happy.

Jeff King: Amen. Well, Tanner, thank you so much for being bold, and like I said, your life has been transformed, but you represent a lot of people, a very courageous act, and thanks for jumping in there. And Tyson, thank goodness for ADF, and your group, and your service, in service of the Constitution, really. And I just wish people would not see this as a left and right, because this is freedom of speech, this is the ability to just speak your mind in a public forum. This is just dangerous at a high degree. So, thanks for your group. How do people support ADF, by the way?

Tyson Langhofer: They can go to adflegal.org, adflegal.org, You can find out about Tanner’s case, you can find out about all the other cases. We’re representing female athletes in Connecticut who been deprived of opportunities to participate in sports because of these issues. We’re representing other professors who’ve been fired for speaking out on these issues. We represent Jack Phillips, the banker in Colorado, and [inaudible] the forest in Oregon. So, a lot of great people that are taking courageous stands like Tanner, and if you’re interested in protecting those freedoms, we’d love to have your support.

Jeff King: Absolutely. And final question, who’s the head of the Loudoun County school board? We’re going to call them. I’m sure, just like you guys, they’re going to be willing to get on camera and state their views. Who is the head of the Loudoun County school board?

Tyson Langhofer: Yeah. Who’s the superintendent?

Jeff King: Or superintendent?

Tyson Langhofer: Dr. Ziegler is the superintendent, yeah, he’s the superintendent of the schools, and then the school board has a nine member commission, so I don’t know that there’s any head of that, but there’s nine members on the school board.

Jeff King: Okay. Well, like I said, I’m sure he’s going to be eager to explain the school board’s views, and yeah, so we’ll try. All right guys. God bless you. Thank you so much.

Tyson Langhofer: Thanks Jeff.