Every American generation has its heroes. Each heroic act is different. But many share one thing in common: The hero gave up his or her life. The greatest heroes throughout our history have given their lives either for another person or a greater cause.
Through the winter of 1777-78, thousands of men died of exposure and disease at Valley Forge as they sought to preserve the flickering flame of the American Revolution against the world’s greatest military power. In 1944, thousands of heroes died storming the beaches of Normandy to save the world from succumbing to the evil of fascism. In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life fighting to free black Americans from the “manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” In 2001, 412 brave first responders perished rushing into the Twin Towers while everyone else was rushing out.
Now that the war in Afghanistan is finally over, America is not engaged in any major foreign wars. The war we face now, thankfully, does not involve missiles, ships, planes, or death in combat. It is instead a war for the hearts and minds of the next generation of Americans. The bravery required to stand up to this threat pales in comparison to those who gave “the last full measure,” but too few are willing to muster the courage anyway. But one man recently did: an elementary school teacher in Loudoun County, Va.
The Loudoun County School Board in Virginia is currently considering adopting a policy that would force teachers and students to refer to “gender expansive or transgender” students using whatever pronouns they select, rather than pronouns reflecting a student’s biological sex. In other words, teachers would be forced to call a girl a boy, or anything else she may demand. The policy would also allow biological boys into girls’ locker rooms and bathrooms. And the policy would allow boys to compete in girls’ sports.
Tanner Cross is a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School in Loudoun County. Tanner believes that there are only two sexes—male and female—and that sex is immutable. Tanner believes that calling a boy a girl would be lying to a child. And, as we all know, lying to someone, especially a child, is wrong. Tanner also believes that the government should never force someone to say something they do not believe is true. A government that forces its citizens to espouse beliefs that violate their conscience is tyrannical and evil. The Supreme Court agrees. Three years ago in Janus v. AFSCME, the high court held: “Forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable is always demeaning.”
Tanner is not the only one who disagrees with this proposed policy. Many other Loudoun County teachers and administrators share the same concerns. The problem: Almost none are willing to voice their concerns publicly for fear of retaliation. Troubled by this, Tanner attended a Loudoun County School Board meeting on the evening of May 25. During the public comment portion of the meeting, Tanner expressed his concerns with the proposed policy. Less than 48 hours later, the school suspended Tanner and banned him from all school property, including future school board meetings, because several parents expressed disagreement with Tanner’s views.
As evidenced by his immediate suspension, Tanner’s decision to publicly stand for what he believes took courage. But let’s think about that for a moment. In sum, Tanner said: “I love all my students. I don’t want to lie to them. I don’t want to be forced to refer to a boy as a girl, because it is not true.”
That’s it. These timeless, basic truths are shared by millions and millions of Americans, including many public school teachers. Yet Tanner’s decision to share these truths in a public forum was viewed by so many throughout the country as courageous.
There is something seriously wrong with a society when it is courageous for an elementary school teacher to espouse basic truths about human biology and a desire not to lie to his students. So why was it courageous? It is not because Tanner was expressing a novel idea or trying to change long-standing beliefs. Rather, it was courageous solely because too few are willing to stand up, speak truth, and voice their beliefs for fear of the rising tide of cancel culture.
Tanner’s story demonstrates that cancel culture is real. And its victims can suffer serious consequences. But Tanner’s story should also give us hope. After Tanner was suspended, he retained Alliance Defending Freedom and sued the school district for violating his constitutional rights of free speech and free exercise of religion. And on June 8, a court held that the school likely violated his rights and ordered the school to immediately reinstate Tanner while the lawsuit moves forward.
As with past generations, if we want to maintain our God-given freedoms, we must fight to preserve them. But here’s the good news. Unlike past generations, we are not being asked to defend these freedoms at the cost of our lives on some far-flung battlefield. All we are being asked to do is courageously speak the truth, regardless of the consequences.
Tyson Langhofer is senior counsel and director of the Center for Academic Freedom at Alliance Defending Freedom (@Alliance Defends), which represents Tanner Cross in Cross v. Loudoun County School Board.