Christian Teacher Wins $360,000 Settlement After Opposing School’s Gender Identity Policy

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A California school district has agreed to pay $360,000 as part of a settlement with a Christian teacher who sued after she was fired for her refusal to comply with the school’s gender identity policy.

According to a complaint filed by her attorneys, Jessica Tapia, a teacher in the Jurupa Unified School District, was previously told by school officials she must refer to students by their preferred pronouns, refrain from expressing her religious beliefs with students or on her social media accounts, and allow students to use the bathroom or locker room that matched their preferred gender.

When she refused, the district terminated her. Tapia insisted that complying with the district policy would be a form of lying and, therefore, would violate her Christian faith. God “defines human sexuality,” her complaint said, citing Scripture.

“Ms. Tapia also believes that all students, regardless of sexual orientation, race, or gender, should be treated with respect, kindness, and love,” the complaint said. “But her faith precludes her from endorsing policies that cause her to reject her faith, such as facilitating a student’s gender transition or withholding information about it from the student’s parents.”

Tapia sued the school district, asserting that her constitutionally protected rights, including those related to the free exercise of religion and free speech, had been violated.

This week, the school district agreed to pay Tapia $285,000 and $75,000 for her attorneys’ fees as part of a settlement. The district did not acknowledge wrongdoing.

“Today’s settlement serves as a reminder that religious freedom is protected, no matter your career,” said Julianne Fleischer, legal counsel for Advocates for Faith and Freedom, the group that represented Tapia. “If the school district’s actions were legal, no teacher of faith would be qualified to serve as a public school teacher. Jessica’s story is one of faithful courage. She fought back to ensure her school district was held accountable and that no other teacher has to succumb to this type of discrimination.”

Tapia said her case is not unique.

“Across the country, we are seeing teachers’ freedom of speech and religious liberty violated through policies that require them to forsake their morals,” Tapia said. I want teachers to be confident in the fact that the best thing we can do for students is educate in truth, not deception.… I am confident that we are making progress to ensure that no teacher has their faith violated within schoolhouse gates again.”

Jacquie Paul, a Jurupa Unified spokesperson, told the Los Angeles Times the settlement was a “compromise of a disputed claim.”

“The decision to settle this case was made … in the best interest of the students, such that the district can continue to dedicate all of its resources and efforts to educate and support its student population regardless of their protected class, Paul said in a statement.

The complaint said Tapia had “invested her entire career into encouraging, loving, and mentoring her students.

The complaint said, “Students, parents, and faculty have often highlighted her exemplary teaching abilities. “Her performance reviews even referred to her as a ‘distinguished’ teacher.”

Meanwhile, Tapia and Advocates for Faith and Freedom launched “Teachers Don’t Lie, a resource for educators in a similar situation. The new initiative helps teachers understand their constitutional rights.

Photo credit: ©Advocates for Faith and Freedom

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist PressChristianity TodayThe Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

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