Peter Vlaming, a high school French teacher in Virginia, was terminated from his job at West Point High School because he could not comply with the school board’s ultimatum that he use masculine pronouns to refer to a female student who identified as male. Mr. Vlaming extended every reasonable accommodation to his student, including using the student’s preferred name and attempting to avoid the use of pronouns altogether, but his efforts to make his student feel respected didn’t go far enough for the school board. They demanded that he speak contrary to his religious and philosophical beliefs, insisting that he refer to her with a masculine pronoun, even when she wasn’t present. But calling a female student he or him was inconsistent with Mr. Vlaming’s convictions about the fundamental difference between the sexes and the nature of biological reality. Mr. Vlaming chose his words in accordance with his beliefs and academic judgment, so when the school board fired him for refusing to use a masculine pronoun, they were forcing him to violate his conscience and to assert a proposition that he believed to be false. However, what separates a free society from a dystopian one is the ability to express dissent, and when it comes to matters of intellectual agreement, submission must never be imposed by bureaucratic threats.
On November 12, 2021, Alliance Defending Freedom, representing Mr. Vlaming, filed a petition for appeal with the Supreme Court of Virginia after a lower court failed to uphold his rights. The Court is expected to make a decision soon on whether to hear this case.
Our Role in this Case
The Independence Law Center partnered with the Founding Freedoms Law Center in Virginia and filed an amicus brief on behalf of the National Association of Scholars, supporting Mr. Vlaming. Our brief explains the historical, ideological, and practical grounds for using pronouns to refer to a person of the corresponding biological sex. It argues that a school board must not violate a teacher’s academic freedom by compelling him to use language in a way contrary to his beliefs.
Additional Resources from Alliance Defending Freedom