Peter Vlaming has been a French teacher at West Point High School for 7 years and is very well-liked by his students. That is one of the reasons students at the Virginia his school staged a walk-out in response to his firing after refusing to use a transgender student's new preferred pronoun.
The other reason for the walk-out? Many of the students believe in defending free speech and free religion. “I feel like everyone should have the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion as well,” said Junior Zachary Gonzalez.
Other students echoed the sentiments: “He's an amazing man,” student Wyatt Pedersen said, reports the Christian Post. “I think he really was going with what he believed was right and it's really unfair that he’s being punished for that, especially in such a dramatic way.”
The trouble began when one of Vlaming's students, a girl, decided she wanted to become a boy. She wanted everyone to refer to her with a new male name and the conforming pronouns.
Vlaming, a Christian, said he would accommodate the new name but couldn't, in good conscience, use the new corresponding pronouns, which he felt were deceptive. “I’m totally happy to use the new name,” Vlaming said. “I’m happy to avoid female pronouns not to offend because I’m not here to provoke…but I can’t refer to a female as a male, and a male as a female in good conscience and faith.”
Apparently, the student (and her parents) felt disrespected by Vlaming's refusal and complained to the school board, who immediately threatened Vlaming with firing if he further refused.
“That discrimination then leads to creating a hostile learning environment," West Point schools Superintendent Laura Abel said. “And the student had expressed that. The parent had expressed that. They felt disrespected.”
So Vlaming took the heat. He was recently suspended and is in the process of bringing his appeal to court. “I won't use male pronouns with a female student that now identifies as a male though I did agree to use the new masculine name but avoid female pronouns,” said Vlaming about the suspension.“Administration is requiring that I use masculine pronouns in any and every context at school. I was informed that any further instances of using female pronouns would be grounds for termination.”
But Vlaming's students are in his corner. Forrest Rohde, a West Point High School junior, organized a walkout in protest. He wanted to make sure people focused their disapproval at the school board, rather than the transgender student. “The child is going through a lot,” Rohde said. “We shouldn’t be directing this towards her, we should be directing this towards the school board.”
Franklin Graham agrees with the students defending their teacher. In a passionate Facebook post, Graham called for Christians to have their eyes opened to what school boards across the nation will do if left unchecked.
"Check out this Newsweek story about Peter Vlaming, a teacher at West Point High School in Virginia, who was fired because he refused to call a transgender student by their preferred pronoun," wrote Graham. "Peter said he would use the new name the student wanted to go by, and he would even try to avoid using a personal pronoun that would offend, 'but I can’t refer to a female as a male, and a male as a female in good conscience and faith.'"
"Peter's lawyer is right to ask where are the teacher’s First Amendment rights in all of this?" continued Graham. "Why is tolerance never a two-way street? These cases are cropping up more and more frequently, and just think of the ramifications. Just ten years ago we wouldn’t have thought this would even be possible. Where is this coming from? The school boards and teachers’ unions are allowing this to happen. This is why it is so important for Christians to run for school boards, be involved, and let your voice be heard. Transgender policies are causing chaos and confusion, stealing privacy, and compelling speech. Deception from the Evil One."
“Tolerance is a two-way street,” said Vlaming's lawyer. “My client respects this student’s rights; he is simply asking that his rights be respected as well…The student is absolutely free to identify as the student pleases. The school board adopted one viewpoint and required Mr. Vlaming, at the cost of his job, to repeat that ideology, repeat that viewpoint. That’s where it’s compelled speech. That’s where it violates his First Amendment right he still retains as a public employee."
We will be waiting to hear what happens with this case, which could set powerful precedents for many other teachers (and employers) who find themselves in similar positions. What do you think of Vlaming's bold stance? Share your thoughts in the comments! Thank you!