The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is petitioning the Virginia Supreme Court to hear an appeal of a lawsuit from former West Point High School French teacher Peter Vlaming, who was fired from the district in 2018 for not using a student’s preferred pronouns.
“Virginia’s Constitution protects every Virginian’s ‘free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience,’ and provides that they ‘shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion, and the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities,'” states the petition for appeal, filed November 12.
“A separate provision protects every Virginian’s right to ‘freely speak, write, and publish his sentiments on all subjects,‘” the petition continues. “The School Defendants fired Peter Vlaming, a high–school French teacher, because he declined the School’s demand that he affirmatively express his personal agreement with messages that violate his religious beliefs.”
Vlaming is suing the West Point School Board, which recommended his termination after he declined to use a student’s preferred pronouns, although he was willing to use the student’s preferred name and try to avoid the use of any pronouns.
“Peter was directed to cease ‘avoiding the use of male pronouns’ to refer to the student, even when the student wasn’t present. The board fired Vlaming when he stated he couldn’t in good conscience comply,” an ADF fact sheet states.
Vlaming’s lawsuit is based on freedom of religion and speech arguments, but the board filed a demurrer saying that Vlaming’s claims should be dismissed since his speech was part of his official duties, according the petition. The King William County Circuit Court granted the board’s demurrer on several of the claims, leading ADF to declare plans to appeal. The Virginia Supreme Court hasn’t yet responded to the petition for appeal.
“Peter has every right to fight this unlawful decision by the school board, and we will be defending him every step of the way,” ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said in a September press release. “Peter went above and beyond to treat this student with respect, including using the student’s preferred masculine name and avoiding pronoun usage in the student’s presence. This was never about anything Peter said—or didn’t say—it is about a school demanding total conformity in utter disregard of Peter’s efforts and his freedoms under Virginia law.”
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