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1A Win: Teacher Fired for Refusing to Use Trans Student's Pronouns Gets Lawsuit Reinstated

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The lawsuit of a Virginia teacher whose effort to sue a school that dismissed him for not falling in line on the use of pronouns when speaking to a student was cut short has won a victory in court.

Virginia’s Supreme Court last week reinstated core parts of a lawsuit filed by Peter Vlaming, who had been a French teacher at West Point High School until he was fired in 2018, according to the Associated Press.

Key to Vlaming’s claims was that he could not use the student’s preferred pronouns due to his “sincerely held religious and philosophical” beliefs “that each person’s sex is biologically fixed and cannot be changed.”

The court said that the lawsuit involved the First Amendment guarantee of the free exercise of religion and should move forward, overruling the lower court that threw it out.

At the time, the district justified its actions by saying Vlaming was insubordinate, according to Richmond.com.

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“Mr. Vlaming was recommended for termination due to his insubordination and repeated refusal to comply with directives made to him by multiple WPPS administrators. That discrimination then leads to creating a hostile learning environment. And the student had expressed that. The parent had expressed that. They felt disrespected,” West Point Schools Superintendent Laura Abel said then.

The ruling reinstating the lawsuit viewed the issue differently, saying it could not compel Vlaming to speak in a way that contradicted his faith.

“The issue here is not whether the School Board’s policies forbidding discrimination and harassment of students applied (as the School Board asserts) or did not apply (as Vlaming asserts) to the compelled-speech situation alleged in the complaint,” the court ruled.

“The issue is whether Vlaming’s sincerely held religious beliefs caused him to commit overt acts that ‘invariably posed some substantial threat to public safety, peace or order,’ and if so, whether the government’s compelling state interest in protecting the public from that threat, when examined under the rigors of strict scrutiny, could be satisfied by ‘less restrictive means,’” the ruling said.

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“When religious liberty merges with free-speech protections, as it does in this case, mere ‘objectionable’ and ‘hurtful’ religious speech or, as in this case, nonspeech, is not enough to meet this standard,” the ruling said.

The ruling said Virginia’s 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 said.

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The ruling did not decide the merits of the case, only that Vlaming had “sufficiently alleged” that his free exercise rights were violated, requiring that his lawsuit be heard.

Vlaming was represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom.

“Peter wasn’t fired for something he said; he was fired for something he couldn’t say. The Virginia Supreme Court rightly agreed that Peter’s case against the school board for violating his rights under the Virginia Constitution and state law should proceed,” ADF Senior Counsel Chris Schandevel said on the ADF’s website.

“As a teacher, Peter was passionate about the subject he taught, was well-liked by his students, and did his best to accommodate their needs and requests. But he couldn’t in good conscience speak messages that he doesn’t believe to be true, and no school board or government official can punish someone for that reason,” he said.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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