VA High Court Backs Teacher Fired Over School’s Pronoun Policy – Now What?

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In a landmark victory, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled Thursday to restore a lawsuit that alleges a high school teacher’s free speech and free exercise of religion rights were violated when he was fired for saying he wouldn’t refer to one of his biologically female students by male pronouns. 

The Commonwealth’s high court ruling reversed a circuit court’s decision to dismiss Peter Vlaming’s case before evidence was heard. The ruling mandates that the case must move forward, heading back to trial in the circuit court. 

State’s High Court: Teacher’s Rights Violated

According to Virginia’s Supreme Court ruling, Vlaming “cannot in good conscience ‘use pronouns that express an objectively untrue ideological message.'” Vlaming stated in his lawsuit that his religion “prohibits him from intentionally lying” and that he “sincerely believes that referring to a female as a male by using an objectively male pronoun is telling a lie.”

In the decision, a majority of the justices agreed Vlaming’s rights were violated and the circuit court should not have been thrown out the case. 

In writing the majority opinion, Justice D. Arthur Kelsey stated the court’s review of this case “seeks to protect diversity of thought, diversity of speech, diversity of religion, and diversity of opinions.” He noted that the nation is a Constitutional Republic and “cannot be true to itself” if it doesn’t allow people participating in the public marketplace of ideas to use their conscience. 

“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,” Kelsey wrote. 

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Vlaming sued the school board for violating his rights under the Virginia Constitution and commonwealth law. He appealed his case to the high court in the fall of 2021.  The court heard the case in February 2022. 

“Peter wasn’t fired for something he said; he was fired for something he couldn’t say. The Virginia Supreme Court rightly agreed that Peter’s case against the school board for violating his rights under the Virginia Constitution and state law should proceed,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Chris Schandevel in a press release.

“As a teacher, Peter was passionate about the subject he taught, was well-liked by his students, and did his best to accommodate their needs and requests. But he couldn’t in good conscience speak messages that he doesn’t believe to be true, and no school board or government official can punish someone for that reason,” Schandevel added. 

“The West Point School Board violated that constitutional command when it tried to force Vlaming to endorse the school’s ideological viewpoints on gender identity,” he explained. “And the Virginia Supreme Court rightly vindicated Vlaming’s right to stand by his convictions in its decision.”

Objected to Calling a Female Student ‘He’

As CBN News reported, Vlaming had taught French at West Point High School in Virginia for nearly ten years. He was placed on administrative leave in 2018 after he objected to calling a ninth-grade transgender student, who had been born female, by the student’s new preferred pronoun, “he.”

Vlaming tried to avoid the use of pronouns altogether and accommodate the student by using the student’s new preferred masculine name. However, school officials directed him to stop avoiding the use of pronouns and to refer to the student using the pronouns inconsistent with her biological sex. 

In December 2018, the school board unanimously voted to fire the teacher after he “accidentally” used a feminine pronoun when referring to a student in class. 

“I had a hearing on December 6th,” Vlaming told CBN News at the time. “And it was long. It was a four-hour hearing. Afterward, The West Point Public School Board unanimously voted to fire me.”

CBN News previously reported that students at the school were outraged over his dismissal. Nearly 150 students showed their support for the beloved teacher by participating in a walkout.

At least 1,046 U.S. school districts across the nation have adopted policies to support a child’s preferred pronouns and some school districts have enacted secrecy policies to hide a child’s gender confusion from parents, Liberty Counsel, a Christian religious rights law firm, noted in a press release. 

“People have a right to live according to their conscience and religious beliefs. Government schools cannot force teachers to endorse or engage in ideological viewpoints that violate their religious beliefs or freedom of speech. The First Amendment guarantees the right to speak and the right to not speak,” Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said. 

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