Idaho passes law protecting school employees who refuse to use trans pronouns

The state capitol building of Idaho.
The state capitol building of Idaho. | Public Domain

Idaho Gov. Brad Little has signed into law a measure designed to prevent public school employees from losing their jobs for referring to trans-identified students by names and pronouns aligned with their biological sex as opposed to their stated gender identity.

Little, a Republican, signed House Bill 538 into law Monday. The law seeks to "ensure that no person in the State of Idaho is compelled by any governmental entity in the State of Idaho to communicate statements that such citizen believes to be false." 

The measure passed in the Republican-controlled Idaho House of Representatives in a party-line 58-11 vote and the Republican-controlled Idaho Senate in a 25-9 vote last week. 

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While all Democrats in both the Idaho House and Senate voted against the bill, two Republican senators broke from their party to join Democrats in opposing it. The legislation, set to take effect on July 1, implements "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."

The bill declares that "a government employee, regardless of the scope of such employee's official duties, shall not be subject to adverse employment action for declining to" refer to trans-identified individuals by their preferred pronouns and a name that does not correspond to their biological sex.

The bill's protections extend to employees of public schools and public institutions of higher education. Students at such educational institutions are protected from "adverse disciplinary action" for declining to address people by names and pronouns that do not match their biological sex.  

The measure prohibits public school employees from "knowingly and intentionally [addressing] an unemancipated minor student by a name other than the student's legal name or a derivative thereof, or by a preferred personal title or pronoun that is inconsistent with the student's sex, without the written permission of the student's parent or guardian." 

Individuals who do face adverse action for declining to refer to trans-identified people by their preferred name and pronouns despite the new law are given "a private cause of action for injunctive relief" provided that they seek legal recourse within two years of the violation of the measure taking place. 

"No one should lose their job or face punishment at school for declining to say something they believe is false," Matt Sharp, senior counsel with the conservative religious freedom legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a statement Tuesday. 

"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," he added. "Now and always, there are only two sexes—male and female—and denying this basic truth only hurts kids. With this legislation, Idaho is rightfully stepping into the gap to protect children and freedom of conscience."

Sen. Mary Shea, a Democrat opponent of the bill, believes the law will make Idaho subject to more litigation. 

"This language — it may seem harmless to you. It's going to be cannon fodder for the litigation that's already filed against Idaho," Shea said, according to The Idaho Capitol Sun. "It also could be a new civil rights case the first time an Idaho citizen is denied rights or privileges because of these definitions."

"And they will be struck down," she continued. "If you're treating people unequally, they will be struck down."

Sen. Dan Foreman, a Republican supporter of the bill, contends the measure is common sense. 

"The seminal documents of most major religions profess that the almighty created two sexes, two genders — whatever you want to call it," he said, according to The Capitol Sun. "This bill supports that conclusion."

Teachers have faced disciplinary action in other parts of the country for declining to refer to trans-identified students by their preferred names and pronouns. In Kansas, middle school math teacher Pamela Ricard was suspended for referring to a trans-identified female student by her given name and using female pronouns to address her.

A lawsuit challenging Ricard's suspension identified the teacher as a devout Christian who "holds sincere religious beliefs consistent with the traditional Christian and biblical understanding of the human person and biological sex."

In Virginia, French teacher Peter Vlaming was fired for declining to address a trans-identified female student with a male name and pronouns due to his religious beliefs about gender and sexuality. In California, students were suspended for "misgendering" a trans-identified teacher. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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