December 18 – The Virginia State Supreme Court will allow a teacher who was fired in 2018 for not using a student’s preferred pronouns to have his day in court.
Peter Vlaming, a French teacher at West Point High School, said he couldn’t use the preferred pronouns of a student who was born female, but wanted to be called “he” because it was against his religious beliefs.
The school board fired him for violating the district’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.
Vlaming sued the school board, but a circuit court dismissed the case.
Now the State Supreme Court is saying the firing was unlawful and the case will return to the lower court to be heard.
Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM said, “It’ll be interesting to see the outcome on this and then what are the ramifications for business and government and private small businesses moving forward after you set a precedent?”
Attorney Clint Barkdoll said, “If you look at this opinion, it’s over 100 pages. It is a fascinating opinion because he brought this lawsuit under the Virginia State Constitution and as the opinion notes, religious freedom in the Virginia State Constitution, it actually predates the First Amendment free speech rights in the US Constitution, and the court cites Thomas Jefferson and other things. It’s a really fascinating opinion. The takeaway is, it looks like Virginia would be prepared to say that if a teacher has sincerely held religious beliefs that would prevent him or her from calling students by a preferred pronoun, those religious beliefs are going to supersede what might be the students, quote unquote, rights to be called their preferred pronoun. This would have major ramifications. Now we should say though, this is only in the state of Virginia. So this holding may not necessarily be the same in all the 49 other states, but have big ramifications in Virginia.”
Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM said, “I think that’s a great ruling, but I’m a little bit tired hearing that only religious beliefs are somehow a counter to that. How about reality beliefs? How about I believe in science and reality? Therefore, I’m not going to delude my students by using pronouns that don’t match reality. I wonder when that’s going to change and people are going to understand it’s they who are imposing an ideological belief on everybody and anybody should be able to say no, I’m not going to do that, whether they have a religious belief against it or not.”
Barkdoll agreed, “I wish we heard more about that. Ironically, too, the same day this Virginia decision came down, there’s a group of teachers in Florida that are suing for the right to call students by their preferred pronoun. Florida has a law that bans that. Florida teachers are saying they should have a right to do it. So this is becoming another one of these issues you may be seeing conflicting rulings from different courts. Those are classic ingredients that eventually may need to go to the US Supreme Court for clarification.”