RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Lawyers for a high school French teacher who was fired after refusing to use the pronouns of a transgender student argued in Virginia Supreme Court on Friday that the school violated his constitutional right to speak freely and practice his religion. A school attorney said the teacher violated the school’s anti-discrimination policy.
Pierre Vlaming sued the school board and trustees of West Point High School after he was fired in 2018. Vlaming appealed a lower court’s decision dismissing the lawsuit and asked the Supreme Court to reinstate it.
Vlaming’s lawsuit was brought by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal defense group that has filed six similar lawsuits – three in Virginia and one in Ohio, Kansas and Indiana.
ADF barrister Christopher Schandevel told the High Court that Vlaming was not fired for something he said, but “for something he couldn’t say”.
“This is a forced speech case,” he said.
Schandevel told judges Vlaming tried to accommodate the student by using his male 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 masculine pronouns.
In his lawsuit, Vlaming said he could not use the student’s pronouns because of his “sincere religious and philosophical beliefs” “that each person’s gender is biologically fixed and cannot be changed.” Vlaming also said he would be lying if he used the student’s pronouns.
Judge Thomas Mann rejected the argument that using the boy’s new name but not his pronouns would allow the teacher to avoid discriminating against him.
“What is the difference?” he said.
“So why is (Vlaming’s) right not to lie more important than (the student’s) right to basic education and not to 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-school policy. discrimination.
“An employee of a public school is not free to state that he will not comply with school policy,” he said.
Judge Wesley Russell Jr. said if Vlaming treated all students the same by using their name, “how is that discriminatory?”
Schoenfeld said it was “inevitable” that pronouns would come into play in a classroom. Vlaming once inadvertently referred to the student as “her” in class, but immediately apologized.
After the hearing, Vlaming said he had hoped he and the school board could have come to an agreement.
“I can disagree with my students without provoking my students. I am here to teach French,” he said.
The judges did not say when they plan to issue a ruling.
In another Virginia case filed by the ADF, the state Supreme Court last year upheld a lower court ruling that required Loudoun County Public Schools to reinstate a teacher who had been suspended after speaking at a school board meeting to oppose a proposed policy requiring teachers to use pronouns used by transgender students. The dispute over the school district’s policy on pronouns is still ongoing.
In a federal lawsuit brought by the ADF in Ohio, the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that Shawnee State University violated the professor’s free speech rights of philosophy Nicholas Meriwether when they disciplined him for refusing to use the pronouns of a transgender student. In a colony, the the university agreed to pay $400,000 in damages and Meriwether’s legal fees.