Teacher asks court to restore suit on trans student pronouns

Nov 4, 2022, 12:22 PM | Updated: 2:51 pm
West Point Virginia high school teacher, Peter Vlaming, speaks with attorney's after his case was a...

West Point Virginia high school teacher, Peter Vlaming, speaks with attorney's after his case was argued before the Supreme Court of Virginia outside the court Friday, Nov. 4, 2022, in Richmond. Va. Vlaming who was fired for refusing to use a transgender student's preferred pronouns sued West Point Public Schools. Vlaming says his rights to speak freely and exercise his religion were violated and is appealing a ruling dismissing his lawsuit. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Lawyers for a high school French teacher who was fired after he refused to use a transgender student’s pronouns argued before the Supreme Court of Virginia Friday that the school violated his constitutional right to speak freely and exercise his religion. An attorney for the school said the teacher violated the school’s anti-discrimination policy.

Peter Vlaming sued the school board and administrators at West Point High School after he was fired in 2018. Vlaming appealed a lower court’s ruling dismissing the lawsuit and asked the Supreme Court to reinstate it.

Vlaming’s lawsuit was brought by Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group that has filed six similar lawsuits — three in Virginia, and one each in Ohio, Kansas and Indiana.

ADF attorney Christopher Schandevel told the high court that Vlaming was not fired for something he said, but “for something that he couldn’t say.”

“This is a case about compelled speech,” he said.

Schandevel told the justices that Vlaming tried to accommodate the student by using his masculine name and avoiding the use of pronouns, but the student, his parents and the school told him he was required to use the student’s male pronouns.

In his lawsuit, Vlaming said he could not use the student’s pronouns because of his “sincerely held religious and philosophical” beliefs “that each person’s sex is biologically fixed and cannot be changed.” Vlaming also said he would be lying if he used the student’s pronouns.

Justice Thomas Mann pushed back against the argument that using the boy’s new name but not his pronouns would allow the teacher to avoid discriminating against him.

“What’s the difference?” he said.

“So why is (Vlaming’s) right not to lie more important than (the student’s) right to basic education and to not be discriminated against,” Mann said.

Alan Schoenfeld, an attorney who represents the school board and school administrators, said Vlaming’s speech was part of his official teaching duties and his refusal to use the student’s pronouns clearly violated the anti-discrimination policy.

“A public school employee is not at liberty to declare that he will not comply with a neutrally applicable policy that is part of his duties as a classroom teacher,” he said.

Justice Wesley Russell Jr. said that if Vlaming treated all students the same by using their names, but not their pronouns, “how does that discriminate?”

Schoenfeld said it’s “inevitable” that pronouns would come into play in a classroom setting. Vlaming once inadvertently referred to the student as “she” in class, but immediately apologized.

After the hearing, Vlaming said he had hoped that he and the school board could have come to an agreement.

“I can disagree with my students without provoking my students. I’m there to teach French,” he said.

Vlaming said he was unable to get another teaching job in Virginia and eventually moved with his wife and children to France, where he now works as the director of purchasing for a publishing house.

The justices did not indicate when they expect to issue a ruling.

In another Virginia case filed by the ADF, the state Supreme Court last year affirmed a lower court ruling that required Loudoun County Public Schools to reinstate a teacher who was suspended after he spoke at a school board meeting in opposition to a proposed policy requiring teachers to use the pronouns used by transgender students. Litigation over the school district’s policy on pronouns is still pending.

In a federal lawsuit filed by the ADF in Ohio, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that Shawnee State University violated the free speech rights of philosophy professor Nicholas Meriwether when they disciplined him for refusing to use a transgender student’s pronouns. In a settlement, the university agreed to pay $400,000 in damages and Meriwether’s legal fees.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - A scooterist drives past a wall painted with Air India planes in Mumbai, India, Thursday, Ja...
Associated Press

India’s Tata Sons to merge Air India with Vistara airlines

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s oldest and largest conglomerate, Tata Sons, will merge its Air India with Vistara, which it jointly runs with Singapore Airlines, in a major step toward revamping the country’s debt-laden national carrier. The merger will strengthen Singapore Airlines’ foothold in India’s fast-growing aviation market, the company said in a statement. It […]
18 minutes ago
Currency traders watch monitors at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquart...
Associated Press

Asian shares mostly higher ahead of Fed chair’s key speech

TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares were mostly higher on Wednesday, ahead of a closely watched speech by the Federal Reserve chief that may give clues about future interest rate hikes. Investors were also eyeing developments in China, where protests have erupted over the “zero-COVID” strategy that has confined millions of people to their homes, sometimes […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

2 dead as bomber hits Pakistan police protecting polio teams

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — A suicide bomber blew himself up near a truck carrying police officers on their way to protect polio workers outside Quetta on Wednesday, killing two people and wounding more than 20 others, mostly policemen, officials said. Ghulam Azfer Mehser, a senior police officer, said the attack happened when the policemen were […]
1 day ago
Lauren Gilbert, a senior manager at the Center for Jewish History (CJH), participate in a global on...
Associated Press

Holocaust survivors offered DNA tests to help find family

NEW YORK (AP) — For decades, Jackie Young had been searching. Orphaned as an infant, he spent the first few years of his life in a Nazi internment camp in what is now the Czech Republic. After World War II he was taken to England, adopted and given a new name. As an adult, he […]
1 day ago
John Kraft sits next to his yawning cat, Tux, at his hilltop farmhouse in Clear Lake, Wis., Wednesd...
Associated Press

No longer fringe, small-town voters fear democracy’s demise

HUDSON, Wis. (AP) — A word — “Hope” — is stitched onto a throw pillow in the little hilltop farmhouse. Photographs of children and grandchildren speckle the walls. In the kitchen, an envelope is decorated with a hand-drawn heart. “Happy Birthday, My Love,” it reads. Out front, past a pair of century-old cottonwoods, the neighbors’ […]
1 day ago
FILE - Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., right, listens as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi o...
Associated Press

Congress prepares to take up bill preventing rail strike

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress is moving swiftly to prevent a looming U.S. rail workers strike, reluctantly intervening in a labor dispute to stop what would surely be a devastating blow to the nation’s economy if the transportation of fuel, food and other critical goods were disrupted. The House was expected to act first on Wednesday […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
Teacher asks court to restore suit on trans student pronouns