Vlaming v. West Point School Board
Description: High school French teacher Peter Vlaming was fired from his job in West Point, Virginia for declining to refer to a female student with male pronouns even though he consistently accommodated the student’s requests and used the student’s preferred name instead of the student’s given name.
In landmark victory, VA Supreme Court vindicates high school teacher fired over pronoun policy
RICHMOND, Va. – In a sweeping victory for free speech and religious freedom, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled Thursday that it would reinstate a lawsuit alleging the West Point School Board violated a high school teacher’s rights protected by Virginia law when it fired him for avoiding the use of personal pronouns to refer to one of his students.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent Peter Vlaming, who taught French in the district for nearly seven years. The West Point School Board fired Vlaming after he stated he couldn’t in good conscience comply with the superintendent’s demand that he refer to one of his students using pronouns inconsistent with the student’s sex. Vlaming tried to accommodate the student by consistently using the student’s new preferred name and by avoiding the use of pronouns altogether. But school officials ordered him to stop avoiding the use of pronouns to refer to the student, even when the student wasn’t present, and to start using pronouns inconsistent with the student’s sex.
“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,” said ADF Senior Counsel Chris Schandevel, who argued before the court on behalf of Vlaming. “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.”
In its opinion in Vlaming v. West Point School Board, the Virginia Supreme Court correctly recognized that the Virginia Constitution “seeks to protect diversity of thought, diversity of speech, diversity of religion, and diversity of opinion.” The ruling continued, “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 West Point School Board violated that constitutional command when it tried to force Vlaming to endorse the school’s ideological viewpoints on gender identity,” Schandevel explained. “And the Virginia Supreme Court rightly vindicated Vlaming’s right to stand by his convictions in its decision.”
Shawn Voyles, one of nearly 5,000 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network, is serving as co-counsel on Vlaming’s behalf.
- Pronunciation guide: Vlaming (VLAM’-ing), Schandevel (SHAN’-deh-vell)
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to protecting First Amendment and related freedoms for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.
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Chris Schandevel serves as senior counsel on Alliance Defending Freedom’s Appellate Advocacy Team. Before joining ADF, Schandevel served as an assistant attorney general in the Criminal Appeals Section at the Office of the Attorney General of Virginia. Prior to his time at the Virginia attorney general’s office, Schandevel clerked for the Honorable Stephen R. McCullough on the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Schandevel earned his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2012. Schandevel earned his B.A. in Social Work from Harding University in 2009. A member of the state bar of Virginia, Schandevel is admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and various state and federal trial and appellate courts.
Tyson Langhofer serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom and director of its Center for Academic Freedom. Before joining ADF, Langhofer was a partner with Stinson Leonard Street LLP, where he worked as a commercial litigation attorney for 15 years and earned Martindale-Hubbell’s AV Preeminent® rating. Langhofer earned his Juris Doctor from Regent University School of Law, where he graduated cum laude in 1999. He obtained a B.A. in international business with a minor in economics from Wichita State University in 1996. A member of the bar in Virginia, Kansas, and Arizona, Langhofer is also admitted to practice in numerous federal district courts.