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Alliance Alert

Oct 4, 2019

A Pronoun Ultimatum: Why Peter Vlaming Chose His Beliefs Over the Job He Loved

For Peter Vlaming, words carry a lot of meaning. As a French teacher, Peter knows that words tell a lot about reality, beliefs, and feelings.

In his seventh year teaching at West Point High School in Williamsburg, Va., Peter was given an ultimatum: Either he contradict his core beliefs by using male pronouns while referring to a female student, or he would face termination from the job he loved.

Now, Peter is suing the school board for breach of contract and for violating his rights under the Virginia Constitution and commonwealth law.

Let’s take a look.

Peter Vlaming works to make his students feel welcomed and respected. When a female student who claimed a masculine identity asked to be referred to by a masculine name, Peter agreed. He was willing to use—and consistently did use—the student’s preferred name instead of her given name. But pronouns are different; they are grounded in the objective reality of being male or female, which doesn’t change. Nonetheless, he attempted to avoid the use of any pronouns in order to accommodate the student.

Yet, that wasn’t enough for the school board. It was on a crusade to compel conformity and directed Peter to cease “avoiding the use of male pronouns” to refer to the student, even if the student wasn’t present.

The board fired Vlaming when he stated he couldn’t in good conscience comply.

Peter’s desire to teach French to high school students stems from a lifelong passion for the language. In Alliance Defending Freedom’s press release announcing the lawsuit, Peter explains:

I love French. It’s fascinating and beautiful. I fell in love with it while in high school. After that and spending 11 years in France after college, I saw more than ever how learning a foreign language opens doors to whole new worlds for people. It’s a passion that I really enjoy sharing with my students. I’m saddened that West Point Public Schools wouldn’t work with me to reach a happy situation for everyone on this matter so that we could all continue on with learning in mutual respect.

ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer explains why Peter’s firing violates Virginia’s Constitution and commonwealth law:

This isn’t just about a pronoun, it’s about what that pronoun means. This was never about anything Peter said or did; only about what the school was demanding he say. Nobody should be forced to contradict his core beliefs just to keep a job.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Another ADF client, philosophy professor Dr. Nicholas Meriwether was punished under similar circumstances by his university in Ohio.

In Jacksonville, a teacher is facing retribution for declining to use pronouns that do not match a student’s biological sex. And earlier this week, a British court upheld the firing of a Christian doctor with 30 years of experience punished for his commitment to working in accordance with his belief that sex God-given and unchangeable.

Peter is yet another victim caught up in the absurdity of government-compelled pronoun usage.  As ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton said:

[Vlaming] just didn’t want to be forced to use a pronoun that offends his conscience. That’s entirely reasonable, and it’s his constitutionally protected right. Tolerance, after all, is a two-way street.

Tags:
  • free speech
  • religious freedom
  • Peter Vlaming
  • Friday Feature
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