New Idaho law aims to protect against forced use of incorrect pronouns, names — By: Catholic News Agency

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CNA Staff, Apr 10, 2024 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Republican Gov. Brad Little of Idaho on Monday signed a law designed to protect government employees and students at public schools from being forced to use names and pronouns that violate their sincerely held beliefs. 

HB538, which the Idaho Legislature passed last week, is set to take effect July 1. The new law provides for “a prohibition on any governmental entity in the state of Idaho from compelling any public employee or public school student to communicate preferred personal titles and pronouns that do not correspond with the biological sex of the individual seeking to be referred to by such titles or pronouns.”

“Such prohibition is essential to ensure that the constitutional right to free speech of every person in the state of Idaho is respected,” the bill reads.

Government, public school, and higher education employees “shall not be subject to adverse employment action” for declining to use a person’s preferred pronouns or addressing a person with anything other than his or her legal name. The act also covers students, saying they “shall not be subject to adverse disciplinary action” for declining to use a person’s preferred pronouns or addressing a person by a name other than his or her legal one. 

In terms of enforcement, the act provides for a “private cause of action for injunctive relief, monetary damages, reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, and any other appropriate relief.”

Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group, praised the governor’s actions, saying: “All of society benefits when freedom of speech and conscience flourish.”

“No one should lose their job or face punishment at school for declining to say something they believe is false,” ADF senior counsel Matt Sharp said in a statement.  

“Words and language carry meaning, and when used properly, they tell the truth about reality, feelings, and beliefs. Yet forcing individuals to say things that are untrue — such as inaccurate names, pronouns, and titles — imposes real harm on the speaker. In no world is it acceptable for schools to force good teachers out of a job all for the sake of promoting gender ideology to vulnerable children. Now and always, there are only two sexes — male and female — and denying this basic truth only hurts kids.”

The Idaho bill comes in response to a number of cases throughout the country in recent years of teachers and students facing disciplinary action for expressing Christian beliefs about gender. 

In August 2021, Virginia’s Supreme Court sided with a teacher after he challenged a school district policy requiring teachers to refer to students by their preferred gender pronouns.

And in 2022, Ohio’s Shawnee State University and Nicholas Meriwether agreed to a $400,000 settlement after the professor faced disciplinary action for declining to use the preferred pronouns of a self-identified transgender student. The university denied claims it had violated the professor’s free speech and religious freedom, though the professor’s attorneys claimed victory.

Later that year, a Kansas middle school teacher was awarded a $95,000 settlement with her school district, which had suspended her in an effort to force her to comply with its gender policies, which included a mandate to lie to parents about their children’s gender transitions.

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