Virginia’s new attorney general is supporting a high school teacher who was fired after he declined to use the personal pronouns preferred by a biologically female student who identifies as male.
Attorney General Jason Miyares, a Republican who was sworn in this year, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Virginia Supreme Court this week arguing that the high school’s action violated the Virginia Constitution and a state law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The West Point School Board fired high school French teacher Peter Vlaming for declining to use male pronouns in reference to the student, who is biologically female. Vlaming had agreed to compromise by using the student’s preferred name instead of the student’s given name.
Lower courts ruled against Vlaming, who is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom. The state constitution and state law, Miyares says in the brief, “forbid the government from forcing its citizens to express personal agreement with messages contrary to their deeply held religious beliefs.”
Vlaming says his religious beliefs prevent him from speaking messages “that he does not believe to be true,” according to ADF’s opening brief.
The school board, Miyares says in the brief, “failed to demonstrate that requiring Vlaming to use a student’s preferred pronouns advances a compelling interest in complying with federal prohibitions on discrimination.”
“The School Board also has failed to show that it has used the least restrictive means necessary to vindicate its purported compliance interest by imposing the requirement on Vlaming rather than, for example, accepting Vlaming’s proposed accommodation of using the student’s name instead of a pronoun,” Miyares says in the brief.
ADF senior counsel Chris Schandevel argues that Vlaming “wasn’t fired for something he said.” Rather, “he was fired for something he couldn’t say.”
“Peter could not in good conscience speak messages that he doesn’t believe to be true,” Schandevel said. “We and the many parties who have filed briefs in support of Peter hope the Virginia Supreme Court will agree the School Board violated Peter’s rights under the Virginia Constitution and state law.”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.