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Virginia Supreme Court Reinstates Lawsuit Filed By Teacher Who Refused to Use Student’s Pronouns

— December 15, 2023

Although the court unanimously agreed to reinstate the West Point High School teacher’s lawsuit, justices disagreed as to how far plaintiff Peter Vlaming’s free-exercise-of-religion argument could be taken.

The Virginia Supreme Court has reinstated a lawsuit filed by a West Point teacher who claims that he was fired for refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred pronouns.

According to NBC News, plaintiff Peter Vlaming—a French teacher at West Point High School in Virginia’s King William County—sued the school board and administrators after being fired in 2018. A judge dismissed the lawsuit before any evidence was heard, prompting an appeal.

However, earlier this week, the state Supreme Court overturned the ruling and reinstated Vlaming’s claim, which may now proceed to trial barring an early settlement.

In his complaint, Vlaming says that he tried to accommodate a transgender student by using his preferred masculine name and avoiding the use of pronouns. However, the student—along with his parents, and school administration—told Vlaming that he was required to use the student’s male pronouns in ordinary communications.

Vlaming, though, insisted that being compelled to use the student’s pronouns would infringe his “sincerely held religious and philosophical beliefs,” which hold that “each person’s sex is biologically fixed and cannot be changed.”

Vlaming said that he felt he would be lying if he were to use the student’s pronouns.

LGBTQ flag. Image via Quote Catalog, Flickr, CC BY 2.0, no changes.

The lawsuit, filed on Vlaming’s behalf by the Alliance Defending Freedom, said that West Point violated its client’s constitutional rights to speak freely and exercise his religion.

The school board, conversely, insists that Vlaming was terminated for violating the district’s anti-discrimination policy.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that two of Vlaming’s claims may be presented in trial: that his right to freely exercise his religion was violated under the state constitution, and that the school breached provisions of its employment contract with Vlaming.

“Absent a compelling reason or 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,” Justice D. Arthur Kelsey wrote in a majority opinion signed by three of the other justices.

However, while the court unanimously agreed that Vlaming’s lawsuit should proceed, other justices dissented on the details. Justice Thomas Mann and two of his colleagues, for instance, said that free-exercise claims could “[establish] a sweeping super scrutiny standard with the potential to shield any person’s objection to practically any policy or law by claiming a religious justification for their failure to follow either.”

The school board had earlier argued that constraints upon Vlaming’s speech are an integral and obvious part of his teaching duties.

“A public school employee is not at liberty to declare that he will not comply with a neutrally applicable policy that is part of his duties as a classroom teacher,” attorney Alan Schoenfeld told the court.


Court revives suit by teacher fired for not using trans student’s pronouns


Virginia court revives lawsuit by teacher fired for refusing to use trans student’s pronouns

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