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Major Victory: Court Revives Lawsuit of Virginia Teacher Fired Over Compelled Pronouns

Peter Vlaming, a high school French teacher in Virginia, was fired for respectfully declining to use pronouns inconsistent with biological sex.
Alliance Defending Freedom
French teacher Peter Vlaming is seen standing outside smiling in the sun

Peter Vlaming loves languages—especially French. But during his time at West Point High School in Virginia, he was much more than just a French teacher.

Peter coached West Point’s first girls’ soccer team, started a service club, managed a fund for staff members who were celebrating important life events or grieving, and even drove a school bus.

Peter’s enthusiasm for the French language and his passion for education made him a beloved teacher at West Point for over six years. But in 2018, he was suddenly placed on leave from his position. And then the school board fired him.

The board terminated Peter’s employment not for something he said but for something he couldn’t say.

French teacher Peter Vlaming was fired over compelled pronouns.

A love for the French language

While Peter has long had a passion for words, the beauty of expression in the French language is what profoundly influenced the course of his life.

“You see how language forms around ideas,” Peter says. “There are things that you can express in French that you can’t express as well in English.”

After being introduced to French in seventh grade, he fell in love with the language, eventually moving to France for 11 years and studying at the University of Paris.

He met his wife in France, and the two moved back to Williamsburg, Virginia, in 2004. That’s when Peter began teaching French in public schools.

Peter taught at West Point for over six years and received only positive feedback in teacher evaluations. He also received the unanimous recommendation of the West Point School Board to continue his teaching contract in 2017.

But the school tossed aside this positive record when it gave him an ultimatum: endorse an ideology you disagree with or face termination.

Vlaming v. West Point School Board

In 2018, one of Peter’s female students began identifying as male.

Peter went out of his way to accommodate this student. He said he would use the student’s preferred male-sounding name and avoid using pronouns altogether.

But Peter simply could not use male pronouns for a female student because it would contradict his core beliefs. This was about more than just pronouns; it was about what pronouns mean. In language, after all, pronouns often identify us as either male or female.

Peter couldn’t in good conscience use male pronouns to identify a female student. At the same time, he made it clear that he wanted to help the student feel comfortable in his classroom by using the student’s preferred name and avoiding pronouns that may cause offense.

But that wasn’t good enough for school officials. They didn’t care about how Peter treated the student. They were on a crusade for conformity. They wanted to force Peter to speak words he disagreed with by using male pronouns for the student—even when that student was not present.

School officials made Peter choose between speaking against his conscience or losing the job he loved. They wanted to compel Peter to say something he did not believe, and when he declined to do so, the school fired him.

In September 2019, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a lawsuit on Peter’s behalf. The government cannot force Americans to say things that violate their core beliefs, and by firing Peter, the school violated his First Amendment rights.

Virginia Supreme Court issues landmark ruling

After the trial court dismissed Peter’s case, ADF attorneys appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court. In a landmark ruling, the court reinstated the case and set a strong precedent for protecting free speech.

The court recognized that the Virginia Constitution “seeks to protect diversity of thought, diversity of speech, diversity of religion, and diversity of opinion.”

“Absent a truly compelling reason for 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.”

The ruling means that Peter’s case can proceed, and the court’s language affirmed that Virginians have a right not to be forced to express ideological messages that violate their core beliefs.

Case timeline

  • Fall 2018: Peter was asked to refer to a female student he had taught the previous year by a new name and male pronouns. Though Peter did his best to accommodate the student, he could not use words against his conscience. He was placed on leave by the school board and then terminated at the end of the year.
  • September 2019: With the help of attorneys from ADF, Peter filed a lawsuit against the West Point School Board for wrongful termination and breach of contract under the Virginia Constitution and Virginia law.
  • September 2021: Peter asked the Virginia Supreme Court to take up his case after the King William County Circuit Court dismissed it.
  • March 2022: The Virginia Supreme Court agreed to hear Peter’s case.
  • December 2023: The Virginia Supreme Court reinstated Peter’s case and affirmed that Virginians have a right not to be forced to express messages that violate their beliefs. The case now returns to the trial court to be heard.

Learn more:

Peter Vlaming shares his story with the Daily Signal.