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Teacher fired for not using student’s chosen pronouns scores major legal victory

High school French teacher Peter Vlaming was fired from his job in West Point, Virginia, after refusing to use student’s chosen pronouns. After a failed lawsuit against the school board, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned that ruling five years after the teacher was fired.

The firing

Vlaming was fired in 2018 and filed a lawsuit against the West Point High School board in 2019. Reports say he refused to address a transgender boy with he/him pronouns and avoided using pronouns while talking to the student. Initially, the lawsuit was dismissed, but the Virginia Supreme Court overturned the ruling and reinstated the essential parts of the lawsuit.

The dismissed lawsuit

The initial lawsuit was dismissed, saying that Virginia’s Constitution “seeks to protect diversity of thought, diversity of speech, diversity of religion, and diversity of opinion, (and that) absent a truly compelling reason for doing so, no government committed to these principles can lawfully coerce its citizens into pledging verbal allegiance to ideological views that violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.” The teacher, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, argued that the school district violated his free speech and free exercise rights under the Virginia Constitution and Virginia’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The overturning of the lawsuit

After the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled to reinstate the lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Virginia issued a statement saying, in part, “Every family has the right to know their child will be treated with the same dignity and respect as every other student, and the plaintiff, in this case, stood in direct opposition to that fundamental principle.” It added, “Public school officials are still bound by federal law to not discriminate against their students, and today’s ruling remanding the case back to lower courts to apply a heightened state constitutional standard did not change that.”

Vlaming’s attorney celebrated this victory

Vlaming’s attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, Chris Schandevel, praised the ruling, saying, “The West Point School Board violated (the) constitution’s command when it tried to force Vlaming to endorse the school’s ideological viewpoints on gender identity. And the Virginia Supreme Court rightly vindicated Vlaming’s right to stand by his convictions in its decision.” While the ruling did not decide the case’s merit, it “sufficiently alleged” that the board violated the teacher’s rights.

The lawyer said the teacher was “fired him for something he couldn’t say”

Schandevel continued, “They didn’t fire Peter for something he said; they fired him for something he couldn’t say.” The lawyer confirmed, “The Virginia Supreme Court agreed that Peter’s case against the school board should proceed.” Schandevel also said the students liked the teacher since he “did his best to accommodate their needs and requests.”

“Religious and philosophical” beliefs

The argument from the teacher’s side was that he was not allowed to practice his “religious and philosophical” beliefs. Therefore, it is an attack on the First Amendment. Vlaming also shared that his belief is that no one can change biologically determined sex. West Point Schools Superintendent Laura Abel said they fired the teacher “due to his insubordination.” Abel further commented that the alleged discrimination led to a hostile learning environment.

Challenging case

Where do you stand when it comes to this case? Do you think the teacher’s First Amendment rights were violated? Or was he dismissing the student’s wishes and, therefore, discriminating against them, considering he knew the student was declaring himself a male?

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