On Monday, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit on behalf of a high school French teacher who was fired after he refused to use male pronouns to refer to a female student who identifies as transgender. Peter Vlaming gladly referred to the student by her preferred traditionally masculine names, and he avoided using pronouns in class. Rather than accepting this compromise, the school board fired him for refusing to use male pronouns.
“Peter went out of his way to accommodate this student as he does all his students; his school fired him because he wouldn’t contradict his core beliefs,” ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton said in a statement. “The school board didn’t care how well Peter treated this student. It was on a crusade to compel conformity.”
Vlaming “works hard to make his students feel welcomed. In his French class, he always calls his students by the name they choose. He even used the student’s preferred masculine name and was willing to avoid using pronouns in the student’s presence,” Dalton added. “He 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.”
“I love French. It’s fascinating and beautiful,” Vlaming said in a statement. “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… 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.”
Vlaming is suing the West Point School Board, the superintendent, and the principal and vice-principal of West Point High School in West Point, Va. The fired French teacher sued them for violating his free speech, engaging in viewpoint discrimination, and retaliation against him, violating his free exercise of religion, violating his rights to due process and from government discrimination, breach of contract, and violating civil rights law by applying a non-discrimination standard that goes beyond Virginia law. He is asking for $500,000 in damages for lost wages and benefits and $500,000 for the loss of reputation and emotional distress, along with attorney’s fees.
The dispute began in October 2018, when the female student asked to meet with Vlaming. She claimed others had told her that the teacher referred to her using female pronouns, and he promised not to use such pronouns. He spoke with the girl’s parent over the phone and explained the situation, also taking time to express “his appreciation of the student’s humor, wit, and intelligence.” The parent shot back that “Mr. Vlaming should leave his principles and beliefs out of this and refer to the student as a male.”
The French teacher spoke with the assistant-principal in person and called the principal over the phone to discuss the situation. They advised him to follow the parent’s wishes. The assistant-principal gave him documents from the National Center for Transgender Equality that had been deceptively edited.
‘The documents the assistant principal gave Mr. Vlaming were from a political advocacy organization and were based on a guidance letter from the Department of Justice and Department of Education that had since been repealed,” the lawsuit explains. “The assistant principal stated that his non-use of pronouns was not enough: that he should use male pronouns or his job could be at risk.”
“Mr. Vlaming believes both as a matter of human anatomy and religious conviction that sex is biologically fixed in each person and cannot be changed regardless of a person’s feelings or desires. Saying ‘he,’ ‘him,’ or ‘his’ objectively expresses the message that a person is, or the speaker believes them to be, male,” the lawsuit explains. “Mr. Vlaming’s conscience and religious practice prohibits him from intentionally lying, and he sincerely believes that referring to a female as a male by using an objectively male pronoun is telling a lie.”
Yet the principals refused his repeated requests for a compromise position. On October 31, they told Vlaming he “must use male pronouns to refer to this female student,” and warned that he “would receive a letter of reprimand formally charging him with non-conformity with school board policy for not using male pronouns for this student.”
Later that day in class, the girl took part in an exercise using virtual reality goggles. She had a partner to keep her from slamming into the wall, but her partner did not see that she was in danger. She was going to hit the wall, and Vlaming exclaimed, “Don’t let her hit the wall!” He apologized to the student, but he was suspended later that day.
The superintendent gave Vlaming a directive, ordering him to refer to the girl using male pronouns. When he refused, the school board voted to terminate his employment on December 6. Students protested his firing with a walkout the day after.
“This isn’t just about a pronoun, it’s about what that pronoun means,” ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, said in a statement on the case. “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.”
This French teacher was fired for refusing to speak in a certain way that violated his conscience. He had pledged to refer to this girl by her chosen name in order to avoid the pronoun fight, but the school’s leaders deemed that insufficient. Instead, they pursued a transgender “crusade” against the heresy of biological reality and traditional beliefs about men and women.
Sadly, Vlaming is far from alone in facing steep penalties for opposing transgender ideology. The ACLU is suing a Catholic hospital for refusing to perform transgender surgery. Democrats have demanded Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson resign after the media twisted his words on transgender identity. A British tax expert was fired for disagreeing with transgender ideology. University of Louisville Professor Allan M. Josephson was effectively fired for the same reason.
Vlaming has a powerful case, and ADF has a long and impressive track record of success, including many Supreme Court wins like Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018).
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.