Fired for refusing to play pretend, high school teacher says his pronouns are no/way

Fired for refusing to play pretend, high school teacher says his pronouns are no/way

Fired for refusing to play pretend, high school teacher says his pronouns are no/way

Peter Vlaming, a high school French teacher, knew the eyes of his students were upon him and they were looking for a response.

Vlaming’s response was strong and defiant, and after five years, it was finally supported by the courts. 

The Virginia State Supreme Court last week overturned a circuit court decision that dismissed his lawsuit against his former employer, West Point Public Schools. The teacher was fired in 2018 for refusing to use the "preferred pronouns" of a transgender student. Vlaming then filed a lawsuit in 2019, alleging he was the victim of religious discrimination.  

Last week's decision means the lawsuit can now proceed but Chris Schandevel, Vlaming’s attorney with  Alliance Defending Freedom, believes the higher court’s ruling gives his client a big stick to swing in front of a judge. The state court agreed that Vlaming was fired because the district sought to compel him to violate his religious convictions.

“We know from the evidence that we have, from written documents that the school released, that they literally fired him not for something he said, not for something he did, but for something that he could not in good conscience say," Schandevel said on the Washington Watch program Tuesday.

"What the Supreme Court of Virginia has said is that this violates the constitution, and so moving forward in the trial court, we are very confident about the strength of the arguments that we're making,” the attorney added. 

West Point Public Schools serves the small town of the same name, population 3,400. The school district itself is small, too, with about 800 K-12 students spread across just two schools. For some reason the small school came after Vlaming big time. 

Vlaming had been employed by West Point Public Schools for seven years. When a female student in his French class began to live as a male, Vlaming refused to refer to the student as he or him. The teacher sought a compromise by referring to the student by the student’s new preferred male name. He even encouraged students in the class to help their classmate select a new French name for the remainder of the course.

For the teacher, a Christian, participation in a district-imposed belief system he judged to be “utterly false” was a bridge too far. 

“My students all knew that I was a Christian, and I knew that they were looking to see, what is Mr. Vlaming going to do? How is he going to approach this? Is he going to fold? Is he going to just go along to get along, just not make any waves, or is he going to take a stand?’ My witness to my students is also a big part of my motivation,” Vlaming told show host Jody Hice.

Vlaming’s attempts at compromise rejected

School officials ordered Vlaming to stop avoiding the use of pronouns – even when the student wasn’t present – and to start using pronouns inconsistent with the student’s sex. Vlaming refused and was fired.

The school district’s position was he violated its anti-discrimination policy by refusing to use "he" and "him" pronouns. He was then hit was a charge of insubordination and told he was violating Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law. His hearing before the school board lasted five hours before the school board upheld his firing. 

While still employed, Vlaming said he tried to find a balance between his beliefs and respect for his student.

“It was a student that I got along very well with, a student that I liked very much, though I didn't agree with her choices," he recalled. "I didn't say anything about my stance in the subject. I wanted to continue showing her as much respect (but) keeping my conscience clear."

Despite using the female student's made-up male name, that wasn't good enough. The school demanded Vlaming prove he was a "true believer" by using "he" pronouns, the teacher recalled. 

"They obliged me to show that I was totally on board, and I told them, ‘No, I can't do that,’” he said, referring to the pressure for him to comply. 

"The fact that we're created men and women is an integral part of what it means to be a Christian, to believe in God's revealed truth and just what we see with our eyes," he told the radio program. "That’s why it was important for me to take a stand. This was about being truthful and also about modeling truthfulness and integrity to my students.”