In a surprising turn of events, a Virginia high school French teacher who was terminated for refusing to use a student’s chosen pronouns scored a major legal victory five years after his firing. Peter Vlaming was dismissed from his position at West Point High School in 2018 after he declined to use a transgender student’s preferred male pronouns.

However, the Virginia Supreme Court recently ruled that the local school board violated Vlaming’s speech rights, overturning a lower court’s decision. The legal battle highlights the complex issues around gender identity, free speech, and religious freedom in U.S. schools.

Peter Vlaming Termination

Peter Vlaming, a former French teacher at West Point High School in Virginia, was terminated from his position in December 2018 for refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred pronouns. According to reports, Vlaming avoided using any pronouns when speaking to the student in question.

Source: Alliance Defending Freedom

However, the school board argued that Vlaming’s actions were discriminatory and violated the school’s anti-discrimination policies. Initially, Vlaming’s lawsuit against the school board for wrongful termination was dismissed in circuit court. The high court found that the school board did not provide sufficient evidence to show that Vlaming’s speech was disrupted within the school.

Initial Lawsuit Was Dismissed

A lower court dismissed the teacher’s initial lawsuit against the school district. However, according to reports, the lawsuit was dismissed on the grounds that Virginia’s Constitution protects diversity of thought and speech.

Source: AP Photo/Steve Helber

The ruling stated that “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.”

Freedom of Speech?

The teacher also maintained that the policy violated his right to free speech by forcing him to use speech with which he disagreed. His lawyers asserted that the First Amendment protects both the right to speak and the right to refrain from speaking. By requiring him to use pronouns like “them” or “ze” to refer to students, the school board policy unlawfully compelled him to express a message with which he disagreed.


While government entities have the authority to regulate speech in schools that is lewd, disruptive, or interferes with students’ opportunity to learn, the teachers’ lawyers argued that using biologically based pronouns did not meet this standard.

Overturning The Decision

The Supreme Court of Virginia’s decision to reinstate the lawsuit filed by teacher Peter Vlaming scored a major victory for his legal team. Vlaming sued the school board after he was fired for refusing to use a transgender student’s pronouns. The court found that the school board did not provide enough evidence to dismiss Vlaming’s lawsuit, allowing it to proceed to trial.

Source: Daily Press/Jonathon Gruenke

In a statement, the ACLU said, “Every family has the right to know their child will be treated with the same dignity and respect as every other student, and the plaintiff, in this case, stood in direct opposition to that fundamental principle.” The ACLU maintains that schools must protect students from discrimination to comply with federal law.

A Big Win for The Alliance Defending Freedom

Vlaming’s legal representation, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), praised the ruling in Vlaming’s favor. Chris Schandevel, Vlaming’s ADF attorney, said, “The West Point School Board violated the constitution when it attempted to compel Vlaming to support the school’s ideological perspectives on gender identity. The Virginia Supreme Court rightly upheld Vlaming’s right to stand by his convictions in its decision.”

Source: Alliance Defending Freedom

The ADF is a conservative Christian legal organization that aims to protect religious freedom and free speech. They argued that Vlaming’s First Amendment rights were violated when he was fired for refusing to use a student’s preferred pronouns.

Vlaming’s Rights Were Violated

The ruling determined that the school board had potentially violated the teacher’s rights in multiple ways. According to the court documents, the teacher had “sufficiently alleged” that the board infringed upon their First Amendment rights to free speech and religious freedom.

Source: NBC12

While the court’s decision was not a final ruling, it allowed the teacher’s case to proceed to trial. If the allegations are proven true, the school board could face consequences for infringing upon the teacher’s constitutional rights. The case highlights the complex issues that arise when anti-discrimination policies and civil rights collide.

Fired on the Basis of Something He Couldn’t Say

According to the teacher’s attorney, Tyson Langhofer, the teacher was terminated from his position for declining to use pronouns that did not correspond to a student’s biological sex. Langhofer articulated that “They didn’t fire Peter for something he said; they fired him for something he couldn’t say.”

Source: Alliance Defending Freedom / Tyson Langhofer Twitter(X)/LanghoferTyson

The legal counsel confirmed that the Supreme Court of Virginia determined the teacher’s lawsuit against the school board should continue to proceed in the judicial process. Langhofer also conveyed that the students valued the instructor as he “did his best to accommodate their needs and requests.”

Conflict of Religious and Philosophical Beliefs

Vlaming argued that he should not have to use pronouns that conflict with his personal religious and philosophical beliefs. He maintained that he cannot be compelled to speak in a way that violates his core values.

Source: Daily Press/Joe Fudge

However, Superintendent Abel maintained that Vlaming’s refusal to use the student’s pronouns created a hostile learning environment and was insubordinate. The school district’s policy prohibits discrimination against students based on gender identity. Abel said Vlaming was fired not due to his beliefs but because his speech and behavior were disruptive and disrespectful.

Valming’s Challenging Case

Vlaming taught French at West Point High School. He stated that using male pronouns for the student went against his religious beliefs. The school board terminated Vlaming’s employment after he refused to comply with school policy and the student’s wishes. Vlaming sued, and a judge ruled that the school board violated his rights. The judge ordered the school board to reinstate Vlaming with back pay and benefits.

Source: Unsplash/Markus Winkler

This case brings up important questions about gender identity, free speech, and religious freedom. On one hand, Vlaming dismissed the student’s gender identity and requested to use certain pronouns, which could be seen as discrimination. However, Vlaming argued that as a teacher, being forced to use pronouns that contradicted his faith violated his right to free speech.

Setting The Precedent for Future Case

This case sets an important legal precedent upholding free speech rights for public school teachers. While further details and court rulings are still to come, the initial injunction shows that teachers cannot simply be fired for their speech, even on contentious issues regarding gender identity.

Source: Alliance Defending Freedom

This nuanced debate has broader implications for how schools balance policies on inclusion, rights, and speech moving forward. The court’s decision provides a measure of job protection for teachers but likely will not fully resolve complex questions about preferred pronouns and free expression in the classroom.