Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

School sacks Christian teacher over pronoun use

Religious Liberty | Board refuses to accommodate high school instructor’s Biblical views on sex
by Rachel Lynn Aldrich
Posted 12/11/18, 04:23 pm

A Virginia teacher was fired Thursday after he refused to use male pronouns for a female student who identifies as a boy.

The West Point School Board in West Point, Va., voted unanimously to dismiss French teacher Peter Vlaming, 47, after a four-hour hearing. The school said in a statement that Vlaming’s refusal constituted “a willful violation of school board policy.”

Vlaming had told the board that his Christian faith did not allow him to use male pronouns for the student. He offered to use the student’s name and avoid using feminine pronouns, but the board rejected the compromise, according to Shawn Voyles, Vlaming’s attorney. Voyles also said the school had no specific policy on the use of gender pronouns, arguing that, even as a public employee, Vlaming had certain constitutional rights.

“One of those rights that is not curtailed is to be free from being compelled to speak something that violates your conscience,” Voyles said.

Vlaming never deliberately referred to the student using female pronouns. Witnesses said the student was about to run into a wall while wearing a virtual reality headset, and Vlaming said someone needed to stop “her.” When school administrators brought him in to discuss the incident, Vlaming indicated he would not refer to the student as a boy.

“I am being punished for what I haven’t said,” Vlaming told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The hearing where the board decided to fire Vlaming was filled to overflowing with parents and students who supported him. The next day, about 100 middle and high school students staged a walkout to protest his firing.

Vlaming is considering whether to pursue legal action, Voyles told The Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg, Va.

Vlaming isn’t the only teacher running afoul of the the pronoun police. An attorney representing a former orchestra teacher from Brownsburg, Ind., filed a tort claim in August against Brownsburg High School, which had fired John Kluge for objecting to the school’s pronoun policy. In November, philosophy professor Nicholas Meriwether sued Shawnee State University Portsmouth, Ohio, for disciplining him for using the courtesy title corresponding to a transgender student’s biological sex. And with Twitter recently banning “misgendering or deadnaming” transgender individuals, the battle over pronouns now extends far beyond the classroom.

Associated Press/Photo by Paul Sakuma (file) Associated Press/Photo by Paul Sakuma (file) U.S. Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima

Illegal advice

Encouraging someone to enter or live in the United States illegally is perfectly legal, according to a ruling last week by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A three-judge panel struck down a section of federal law that criminalizes a variety of behaviors, including unlawfully bringing in illegal immigrants, shielding them from detection, or encouraging them “to come to, enter, or reside in the United States.”

The court ruled that the law was “unconstitutionally overbroad” in light of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.

The judges reversed a lower court ruling from 2010 that found San Jose, Calif., immigration consultant Evelyn Sineneng-Smith guilty of two felony counts of counseling illegal immigrants to remain in the United States illegally. From 2001 to 2008, she told clients—mostly healthcare workers from the Philippines—that she could help them get green cards by way of a labor certification program, even though she knew that process had expired in 2001.

The law that nailed Sineneng-Smith could also apply to “simple words—spoken to a son, a wife, a parent, a friend, a neighbor, a coworker, a student, a client—‘I encourage you to stay here,’” according to the court opinion written by U.S. Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima.

Mat Staver, chairman of the legal group Liberty Counsel, told me he expects a revision of the immigration law that will not include speech.

“You want to prevent someone from being involved in facilitating illegal immigration, while, at the same time, not prohibit someone from speaking on the subject of illegal immigration or even providing counsel to individuals regarding that issue of illegal immigration,” he said.

Staver said that a clear line exists between simply telling someone to stay in the country illegally—a protected form of speech—and actually housing, employing, or otherwise physically helping them do so.

Government attorneys argued that the law mostly prohibited actions and a narrow kind of speech that the First Amendment doesn’t protect. But the court ruling said that “criminalizing expression like this threatens almost anyone willing to weigh in on the debate.”

It’s unclear if the federal government will appeal to the Supreme Court, but Staver believes the law will ultimately be back on the books, just modified not to restrict free speech. —Samantha Gobba

The tide of justice

Ever since the Obama administration attached a mandate to the Affordable Care Act in 2012 that required businesses and organizations to provide contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients to their employees, Catholics have been fighting for exemptions. The tide finally seems to be turning in their favor.

After the Little Sisters of the Poor finally won its long battle against the mandate established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, thanks to new rules from the Trump administration issued last month, another Catholic organization also gained a victory. On Nov. 29, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a 2014 decision against the Catholic Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), effectively granting it an exemption to the mandate.

“The government and the courts have now realized what EWTN has been saying all along, that the HHS mandate was an unconstitutional attempt to coerce us into violating our strongly held beliefs,” EWTN chairman and CEO Michael P. Warsaw said in a statement.

But the ruling was a long time coming. The original lawsuit was filed in February 2012 shortly after the mandate went into effect. A U.S. district court in Birmingham, Ala., dismissed the suit the following year because the Obama administration was trying to amend the regulations. But EWTN was not satisfied with the changes and sued again in October 2013, this time losing outright in U.S. district court. The network appealed to the 11th Circuit, which ruled against it, pending the outcome of the Little Sisters’ case, Zubik v. Burwell. After the Supreme Court gave the nuns a bit of a boost and sent the case back to the lower courts, the 11th Circuit vacated its own verdict against EWTN in 2016. A settlement was reached, and EWTN asked the appeals court to vacate the district court’s decision, which it did at the end of last month.

Other religious groups have also seen recent victories in their fight against the HHS mandate. A U.S. district court on Tuesday ordered the federal government not to enforce the mandate against six Christian organizations represented by Alliance Defending Freedom: the Association of Christian Schools International, Samaritan Ministries International, Taylor University, Indiana Wesleyan University, Asbury Theological Seminary, and ADF. —R.L.A.

Bah! Humbug!

Following in the footsteps of its neighbor Wisconsin, which put up a Flying Spaghetti Monster display in 2013, Illinois has decided that, to be fair, it cannot legitimately deny anyone’s holiday display as long as it isn’t taxpayer funded, including Satanist displays.

A satanic sculpture is on display in the Illinois Capitol rotunda this month, a gift from the Chicago branch of the Satanic Temple, NPR reported. The statue, which looks like a pagan idol, is accompanied by a sign saying, “Knowledge Is the Greatest Gift,” as well as a sign from the Illinois government explaining why they had to allow the sculpture. The group has put up similar displays in the Michigan and Arkansas capitols in the past. —R.L.A.

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Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Rachel is an assistant editor for WORLD Digital. She is a Patrick Henry College and World Journalism Institute graduate. Rachel resides with her husband in Wheaton, Ill.

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  • Nat Manzanita
    Posted: Tue, 12/11/2018 04:49 pm

    Seems to me that if the legal rulings go in the direction of allowing every kind of display, we should rejoice. Our Lord Jesus is more attractive than Satan and has more people willing to praise Him. When the playing field is level, truth wins.

    Posted: Tue, 12/11/2018 08:26 pm

    Yes, I think ultimately this will show the vacuity of false creeds akin to the Baal prophets. 

  • JerryM
    Posted: Tue, 12/11/2018 05:44 pm

    I would certainly hope and encourage Peter Vlaming to bring this to court. I pray he will know God's encouragement and strength in what is no doubt a trying time.

  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Wed, 12/12/2018 03:49 am

    The interesting thing about these travesties of justice is that state agencies are violating actual law in an effort to cowtow to a nonsensical agenda that is contrary to science and reality.  Christians should be encouraged that they are on the right side of reality.  Let the loons sow chaos.  The truth will always win in the end.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Wed, 12/12/2018 08:33 am

    "School shows intolerance of common sense"

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Wed, 12/12/2018 04:21 pm

    BTW his name is misspelled under the photo.

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Thu, 12/13/2018 10:18 am

    Thank you for pointing out the error. We have corrected it.

  •  CaptTee's picture
    Posted: Fri, 12/14/2018 09:54 pm

    So, encouraging someone to commit a crime (or to continue doing so) is not conspiracy?