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Broad support filed at VA Supreme Court for high school teacher fired over pronoun policy

ADF attorneys represent French teacher Peter Vlaming
Peter Vlaming

RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia attorney general, physicians, feminists, legal scholars, and a variety of organizations have all filed briefs with the Virginia Supreme Court in support of a high school teacher fired for avoiding the use of personal pronouns to refer to one of his students. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the teacher, Peter Vlaming, filed their opening brief with the court Tuesday.

The West Point School Board fired Vlaming, who taught French in the district for nearly six years, after he stated he couldn’t in good conscience comply with the superintendent’s order that he refer to one of his students using pronouns that were inconsistent with the student’s biological sex. Vlaming tried to accommodate the student by consistently using the student’s new chosen name instead of the student’s given name and by avoiding the use of pronouns altogether. But school officials ordered him to stop avoiding the use of pronouns to refer to the student, even when the student wasn’t present, and to start using pronouns inconsistent with the student’s biological sex.

“Peter wasn’t fired for something he said; he was fired for something he couldn’t say,” said ADF Senior Counsel Chris Schandevel. “As a teacher, Peter was passionate about the subject he taught, he was well-liked by his students, and he did his best to accommodate their needs and requests. But Peter could not in good conscience speak messages that he doesn’t believe to be true. We and the many parties who have filed briefs in support of Peter hope the Virginia Supreme Court will agree the School Board violated Peter’s rights under the Virginia Constitution and state law.”

As the ADF brief filed with the court explains, “At its core, the overarching question presented is a narrow one: whether public school teachers can be forced to violate their religious beliefs by expressing personal agreement with the government’s viewpoint on an issue of public concern. The answer is a resounding, ‘No.’”

As the Commonwealth of Virginia notes in its brief, “The School Board’s decision to fire Vlaming for refusing to express a belief he does not hold, and that is contrary to his faith, transgresses Virginia’s longstanding constitutional protections.”

“Affirming a child’s assertion of a discordant gender identity actually exacerbates the psychological and emotional distress that underlie the assertion,” wrote a group of physicians who treat children and adolescents. “In refusing to deny biological reality by acceding to his student’s demands, it was Mr. Vlaming who was acting in [the student’s] best interest. Rather than being terminated, Mr. Vlaming should be celebrated.”

“It is no exaggeration to say that the current wave of ‘gender identity’ advocacy involves an explicit rejection of objective scientific fact,” added the Women’s Liberation Front, a self-described radical feminist group. As their brief explains, “gender identity-based laws and policies have already been applied in a manner that tramples upon the rights, privacy, and safety of women and girls,” while isolating and threatening “women and men who, like Mr. Vlaming, simply want to perform their jobs without being compelled to support beliefs they do not share.”

Shawn Voyles, one of more than 4,400 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network, is serving as co-counsel on Vlaming’s behalf in Vlaming v. West Point School Board.

  • Pronunciation guide: Vlaming (VLAMM’-ing), Schandevel (SHAN’-deh-vell)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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Chris Schandevel
Chris Schandevel
Senior Counsel
Chris Schandevel serves as senior counsel on Alliance Defending Freedom’s Appellate Advocacy Team.