A rare victory for religious liberty in California

Even the most crazy-left enclaves of California are starting to recoil from the most unreasonable demands of transgender ideology. For one thing, speech cannot be compelled, especially against the dictates of faith.

This month, a Riverside County school district agreed to pay $360,000 to a former high school teacher who had been fired for refusing to call transgender students by their desired pronouns or to hide their gender identities from their parents. Jessica Tapia, a girls’ coach in the school district since 2014, explained her religious beliefs prevented her from playing the pronoun game, but school administrators fired her anyway.

Aided by the nonprofit group Advocates for Faith and Freedom, Tapia had sued, insisting that she could not be compelled to violate her firm religious beliefs with regard to gender transition or to “lie to parents.” In this instance, she didn’t technically “win” her suit, and it set no legal precedent either way because she and the school district settled out of court. Nonetheless, the school’s large payment ($285,000 to her and $75,000 to her lawyers) is a testament to the strength of her case and the likely favorable result for her if it had gone to trial.

This matter has been playing out in schools and courts across the country, with conflicting rulings. While the Supreme Court has yet to weigh in definitively, the high court has, on other matters, steadily expanded the sphere of religious liberty and clamped down on compelled speech. A teacher like Tapia seems likely to win a clear victory, one setting a nationwide precedent, when and if the subject comes before the Supreme Court.

If even a leftist school district in leftist California, with a leftist federal court of appeals having jurisdiction over it and a leftist Biden Justice Department essentially supporting it, still reads the tea leaves in a way obliging it to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, that’s a strong sign that the “pronoun police” stand on weak legal legs.

The Supreme Court’s respect for religious liberty is not new. To cite just one example, in the 1987 case of Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Commission, an 8-1 Supreme Court cited plenteous earlier precedents while reaffirming that a state government entity cannot, without a truly compelling state interest, force an employee into “a choice between fidelity to religious belief or cessation of work.” States cannot escape requirements to “neutrally accommodate religious beliefs and practices, without endorsement.”

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Schools and, indeed, every public-sector employer need to be taught this lesson again and again until they finally learn it and abide by it.

Apart from legalities, one more point needs to be made. Pronouns do not have rights. Even figuratively speaking, pronoun use cannot be of such importance as to be treated as a cardinal sin (except, perhaps, for professional writers and grammarians). The ever-growing list of things to which some people take offense and which some people want to penalize is a sign of a disordered social sense. In the vernacular, people need to chill out. Don’t ask the law to handle what a combination of human decency and reasonable forbearance, perhaps with an occasional stiff upper lip, are perfectly capable of handling.

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