A teacher fired for declining to refer to a female student by male pronouns has received support from a number of individuals, including the Virginia attorney general.
French teacher Peter Vlaming was fired by the West Point School Board in 2018, despite offering to accommodate his student by using a preferred name and avoiding pronouns entirely. The district superintendent required Vlaming to refer to the student by male pronouns — or face termination.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which will be representing Vlaming in front of the Virginia Supreme Court, wrote in the opening brief that he “could not speak religious messages that he does not believe to be true” or “lie to his students” by affirming that “a person’s sex is determined by their beliefs rather than biology.”
“At its core, the overarching question presented is a narrow one: whether public school teachers can be forced to violate their religious beliefs by expressing personal agreement with the government’s viewpoint on an issue of public concern. The answer is a resounding, ‘No,’” ADF continues.
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares submitted an amicus curiae brief last week arguing that Vlaming’s termination was a violation of the Virginia Constitution and Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Forcing students or teachers to use pronouns that do not correspond with an individual’s biological sex is a clear violation of not only Virginia state law but also the First Amendment. The government cannot compel speech and require any citizen to affirm a belief they do not hold.
In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the Supreme Court ruled that schools could not compel children to salute the flag in violation of their religious beliefs.
“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein,” Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote in the majority opinion.
Pronouns are not merely a matter of manners, as some activists claim. By accepting that someone can choose their pronouns, you affirm that gender has no meaningful ties to biology. It’s a significant concession to an entire worldview that sees gender and identity as fluid.
More cases like Vlaming’s may be on the horizon as pronoun policies are implemented by districts, such as the one recently discovered by Virginia parents. A section in the revised Fairfax County Public Schools “Student Rights and Responsibilities” draft handbook would punish students with suspension for “misgendering” a classmate. In Wisconsin, a school district reportedly filed a Title IX complaint against three middle school boys, accusing them of “sexual harassment” for using the wrong pronouns.
School districts certainly have an interest in protecting children and creating a safe environment. But declining to use a student’s preferred pronouns due to a sincerely held religious belief is not a threat unless you define any perceived challenge to a person’s self-asserted identity as harmful. The government has no business compelling individuals to affirm the lie that gender can be changed.
Katelynn Richardson is a Summer 2022 Washington Examiner fellow.