NZ teacher de-registered for refusing to use student’s preferred pronouns

A Christian maths teacher in New Zealand has been de-registered for refusing to use the preferred pronouns and names of a transgender student.

Following a complaint lodged by the student, a hearing was held before the New Zealand Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal, an independent body chaired by a lawyer and two experienced teachers. The Tribunal ruled that the teacher’s licence should be cancelled and ordered him to pay costs.

During the hearing, the teacher justified his actions by referencing his deeply held Christian beliefs. He explained that his Christian faith teaches that gender and sexuality are inherent aspects bestowed by God, leading him to reject the notion that individuals can change their gender. Thus, in his view, it is inappropriate for schools to imply or educate children that gender is a matter of choice. Additionally, his stance on abortion and homosexuality was also brought up during the hearing.

The Tribunal however said they had “no hesitation” ruling that the teacher acted with serious misconduct, stating that his submissions comprised “unrealistic hysteria” and adding:

“The arguments referencing the risk of homosexuality and abortion may well be welcome and normal within the context of the teacher’s private life and views. However, they are disgraceful when used in the present context”.

The Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand also said the teacher should have used the student’s preferred pronouns, stating:

teachers must not use their authority to “undermine the personal identity of their learners, or to inappropriately influence them’.”

In other words, the Tribunal and the Teaching Council have deemed the teacher’s religious views “disgraceful”, determining that while he is allowed to hold these views, he is nevertheless obliged to keep those views to himself and not express them in his workplace. Furthermore, he is obliged to act against his beliefs when they are judged to be offensive according to prevailing ideological fashions.

This case reflects a growing number of workplace disciplinary cases in which people of faith are punished or sacked for expressing their beliefs in public. In the UK, teacher Joshua Sutcliffe was banned from the profession for misgendering a transgender pupil and allegedly inappropriately sharing his Christian beliefs.

Mr Sutcliffe said:

“I believe affirming children who are in gender distress in the classroom is psychologically damaging for them. I refuse to go against my conscience and cause a child harm and cannot apologise for that.”

Australia and New Zealand are both signatories to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which provides that freedom of religion is not just the freedom to believe something but is also the freedom to practise that religion in public. Article 18 of the ICCPR provides that those rights can only be infringed where it is absolutely “necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals of the fundamental rights and freedom of others”.                      

As this issue increases in urgency and significance, it is clear that a federal religious discrimination bill is required now as a matter of urgency.