Peter Vlaming, a French teacher at West Point High School in Virginia, was fired in December of 2018 after refusing to address a female student who had begun identifying as male by male pronouns, according to CNN.
Vlaming had told the district that he couldn’t “in good conscience” call the student by he/him/his pronouns because of his religious beliefs, he claims in his suit.
“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,” the suit reads.
However, he says that he used the student’s male name and avoided all pronouns. That wasn’t good enough for the school, which the suit claims tried to force him to use the pronouns.
Eventually, the situation came to a head during a virtual reality exercise in the classroom; as the student in question was walking in one direction, Vlaming exclaimed, “Don’t let her hit the wall!”
According to the suit, the student waited until class was out to confront him.
“Mr. Vlaming, you may have your religion,” the student allegedly said, “but you need to respect who I am!”
He was fired by the school board in a unanimous 5-0 vote last December.
During the board meeting in which he was fired, Vlaming insisted that he didn’t mean to offend the student.
“My religious faith dictates that I am to love and respect everyone, whether I agree with them or not. Because we are all made in God’s image,” he said.
That didn’t manage to sway the board, which said he was fired because of intolerance — a rather cheeky reason given the freedom of religion aspect.
“We do not and cannot tolerate discrimination in any form, or actions that create a hostile environment for any member of our school family,” the board said.
In the wake of the lawsuit, the district maintained that it had done nothing wrong.
“West Point Public Schools’ primary focus is on students, staff, and instruction,” it said in a statement.
“We will continue to direct our energy toward maintaining a high-quality learning environment in our schools.”
Now, it appears the case is going to court.
“The former teacher is now suing the school district officials, saying they breached his contract and discriminated against him, violating his right to speak freely and his religious freedom,” CNN reported.
“He is seeking $500,000 in lost wages and benefits, plus $500,000 for loss of reputation, pain, suffering and emotional distress. He is asking to get his job back or another position at equal or higher pay.”
CBS News reported the lawsuit claims breach of contract as well as violations of Vlaming’s rights under both commonwealth law and Virginia’s constitution.
“This isn’t just about a pronoun, it’s about what that pronoun means,” Tyson Langhofer, director of the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Center for Academic Freedom, said.
“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.”
In an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show late last year, Vlaming said he tried to meet the school and the student in the middle.
“I used the new name, I avoided feminine pronouns, but male pronouns were a bridge too far,” he said.
“But I did everything in my power to accommodate and show respect towards this student and this student’s choices.”
That wasn’t enough for the school or the student. Now we’ll see what a court has to say about whether religious convictions are moot when it comes to gender pronouns.
OCTOBER 7, 2019: A previous version of this article’s headline stated that Peter Vlaming was fired for misgendering a transgender student. In his lawsuit, Vlaming says he avoided the use of pronouns and was fired for refusing to call the student by he/him/his pronouns. We have updated our headline to more accurately reflect the situation.
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