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Supreme Court of the United States

Educator Still Waiting for Justice After Being Fired Over Pronouns

September 29, 2021

“I am delighted to inform you that... I recommended to the West Point School Board that you be granted continuing contract status... The board unanimously granted you a continuing contract effective August 2017.”

“We all look forward to working with you in the future.”

Those are words any public school teacher would be happy to read. And it’s safe to say Peter Vlaming thought no different when he received them from his Superintendent in a letter prior to that school year.

Mr. Vlaming continued doing what he had always done after his contract was extended. He spread his infectious love of language with students who appreciated his efforts.

But Mr. Vlaming received another letter a little over a year and a half later. And the tune was decidedly different.

“[T]he School Board voted to accept the Superintendent’s recommendation that Mr. Vlaming be dismissed from employment.”

The reason? It certainly had nothing to do with his ability to teach French. Mr. Vlaming was fired because he could not, in good conscience, use male pronouns to refer to a female student.

Who: Peter Vlaming

Peter Vlaming taught French for seven years and was well-liked by his students, due to his passion for the language.

“I love French. It’s fascinating and beautiful,” Peter said. “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.”

In fact, Mr. Vlaming was so well-liked that many students staged an on-campus walkout in protest of his wrongful termination.

What: Vlaming v. West Point School Board

When one of his female students decided to identify as male, Mr. Vlaming went out of his way to accommodate this student—including using the student’s preferred male name.

But he could not, in good conscience, use male pronouns to refer to a female student. That wasn’t good enough for the school district, which gave him an ultimatum: Either contradict his beliefs by using male pronouns for a female student or be fired.

When: 2019 - Present

Mr. Vlaming had taught the student in question in 2016 and 2017. Beginning in the Fall of 2018, the student asked to be referred to with a new male name and pronouns. Mr. Vlaming was fired at the end of 2018.

Where: West Point High School in West Point, Virginia

Why: The Government Cannot Compel Speech 

This was not about anything Mr. Vlaming said or did. Rather it was only about what the school was demanding he say. He was fired because he couldn’t agree to the school board’s demands that he refer to a female student by male pronouns, which also included any time when the student was not even present.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has already weighed in on another ADF case with similar circumstances at a university. The ruling was abundantly clear:

“[The university] punished a professor for his speech on a hotly contested issue. And it did so despite the constitutional protections afforded by the First Amendment. The district court dismissed the professor’s free-speech and free-exercise claims. We see things differently and reverse.”

ADF is appealing Mr. Vlaming’s case to the Virginia State Supreme Court after a lower court failed to uphold his rights.

Bottom Line : The government cannot force anyone to express ideas about human nature if those ideas are in direct contradiction to their deeply held beliefs. That includes teachers.

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