Virginia's newly pronounced attorney general stands with the French language teacher who was fired by West Point High School for not following the public school's mandate of pronoun use among transgenders.
Attorney General Jason Miyares filed brief amicus curiae with the Virginia Supreme Court this week arguing that West Point School Board violated state law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as mandated by the Virginia Constitution.
In 2018, a biologically female student of teacher Peter Vlaming wanted to be identified as a male. To reconcile the school's mandate and his Christian belief, he said that he would prefer to call this student a male-sounding name. He couldn't use male pronouns for a female student because it was against his religious beliefs. Moreover, the language teacher indicated that in speech, pronouns identify people as either male or female.
With the help of attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom, he filed a lawsuit against the school board yet the Circuit Court of the County of King William ruled against him. The Virginia Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal of the attorneys representing Vlaming in March 2022.
Miyares stated in his friend-of-the-court brief that the "School Board penalized Vlaming in his civil capacity as a teacher because of his religious beliefs." His termination indicated that the school board imposed on him a matter that he does not believe true which could be considered as discrimination according to federal law.
Lack of 'Compelling Interest' to Justify Termination
The attorney general indicated that a bipartisan supermajority of the General Assembly enacted VRFRA to extend its protection of Virginia's religious liberty. He argued that if a government policy largely burdened an individual's religious exercise, then the government is required to show that the burden is necessary to achieve the "government's compelling interest." Also, the government should use lease restrictive means in pursuit of that interest.
With regards to Vlaming's case, Miyares stated that letting the teacher choose between his religious belief and his employment gave a substantial burden on Vlaming. However, the school board lacked a "compelling interest" to justify the burden they put on Vlaming's religious freedom and "failed to use less restrictive means," like considering Vlaming's recommendation to use the student's name instead of using transgender pronouns.
Miyares urged the court to look beyond the general anti-discrimination law established by the school and scrutinize further if Vlaming really intended harm to the particular claimant. He argued that the school board should prove to Vlaming that his decision to pursue his religious belief "threatened the peace, safety, or good order of the school," which the school board had not proven yet.
"That alone is sufficient to reverse the dismissal," the case read.
ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer noted that nobody should be coerced against his beliefs just to keep a job. He said that the teacher was terminated not for the thing he said or did but for what he could not say. He indicated that Vlaming's and similar cases are important to protect the right to speak or not to speak freely.