These days, free speech is often being suppressed by government officials, media elites, and other powers-that-be not because it is violent rhetoric, but because those individuals either disagree or feel uncomfortable with certain speech. Words from the late Democratic President Harry S. Truman decades ago offer a stark reminder for Americans today.
“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition,” he said, “it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
Increasingly in academia and other areas, the prevailing ideology is that “gender” is a spectrum and, therefore, male and female are not the only two genders. Without much – if any – public debate, this ideology is now contained in school district policies.
Across the country, teachers, staff, and students alike are being forced to use pronouns selected by individual students, even though the chosen pronouns don’t conform to their actual gender. Some districts even have a stated policy that parents are not to be notified when a student wishes to be called a different name or to use different gender pronouns than their biological gender.
Such policies – as seen in Loudon County School Board Policy 8040 in Loudon County, Virginia – are problematic in numerous ways. In particular, they can directly harm young students at the most vulnerable time in their lives: when they are developing into mature adults.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Dr. Stephen B. Levine has observed, “Putting a child or adolescent on a pathway towards life as a transgender person puts that individual at risk of a wide range of long-term or even life-long harms, including: sterilization (whether chemical or surgical) and associated regret and sense of loss … physical health risks associated with exposure to elevated levels of cross-sex hormones; surgical complications and life-long after-care; alienation of family relationships; inability to form healthy romantic relationships and attract a desirable mate; elevated mental health risks.”
Tragically, district policies which enable children to “choose their gender” in turn force teachers to deny biological reality, repudiate their own beliefs, and even contribute to children’s long-term mental and physical health issues, without having any say in the matter. To be sure, anyone can and should get to believe what they wish regarding transgender ideology. But if a teacher or staff member disagrees with certain viewpoints, should they be free to dissent – or must they be compelled to adopt both the ideology and its language?
Three faculty members in high school, middle school, and elementary schools, respectively, in Loudon County have posed this very question to the courts. In the case of Cross v. Loudon County School Board, teachers Tanner Cross, Monica Gill, and Kim Wright have challenged Policy 8040 on the grounds that the mandate compelling speech (the use of certain pronouns) violates their core beliefs while subverting – and indeed harming – the best interests of their students.
As Alliance Defending Freedom has argued, “The debate over the school’s policy is about much more than pronouns. It’s about scientific truth. It’s about whether the government can force teachers to endorse an ideology that conflicts with their beliefs.”
Loudon County Schools are far from alone in this affront to free speech. In West Point, Virginia, French teacher Peter Vlaming was fired for refusing to refer to a female student with male pronouns. He has similarly sued his school board in a case now before the commonwealth’s Supreme Court.
“Peter could not in good conscience speak messages that he does not believe to be true,” explain Vlaming’s attorneys at ADF.
Therein lies a critical point: Policies of compelled speech not only violate one’s freedom of speech and freedom of conscience, but they also imply that any belief the individual holds which differs from the state is wrong. As in, incorrect or improper, and therefore worthy of being shut down.
Former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy noted, “The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the beginning of thought.” As a society, it’s critical that we seriously discuss and debate transgender ideology and its impact on children. As a free society, we are obliged to allow that discourse to continue without government subversion. The First Amendment demands it. It’s up to the courts to affirm it.