Applaud how teacher addresses religious freedom
By THOMAS WHEATLEY | Special to The Washington Post | Published: October 11, 2019
If you believe gender is determined by biological sex, consider yourself warned: You are not welcome at West Point High School in West Point, Va.
Or at least, if you do believe as much, keep your mouth shut about it.
On Dec. 6, the school board overseeing West Point High School voted unanimously to terminate the employment of French teacher Peter Vlaming. The reason? Vlaming refused to use a transgender student’s preferred pronoun, citing religious reasons.
“After much thoughtful deliberation, the School Board voted to support the superintendent’s recommendation [to terminate Vlaming],” the school board said in a brief statement in 2018. “The School Board has adopted policies and tonight we upheld these policies.”
The school’s decision posed a foreboding and dark augury for the First Amendment. Fortunately, more than a year after his firing, Vlaming is fighting back.
Teaming up with the Alliance Defending Freedom, Vlaming has filed a million-dollar lawsuit against West Point High, saying the school has “made this case about far more than titles or pronouns; they have made it about dueling views of human nature and compelling conformity to, and support for, only one view. Under the timeless free speech principles enshrined in the Virginia Constitution and laws, [the school] cannot compel one side to voice the other’s beliefs.”
Good for Vlaming. Free speech and the free exercise of religion make up the bedrock of a free society. Indeed, the rule that the government cannot compel a citizen to speak against his conscience is normally beyond reproach. Yet when it comes to the political orthodoxy of the gender identity movement, that fundamental proverb of a free people gets conveniently forgotten, lending superficial credibility (and in some European jurisdictions, the force of law) to the inane and supremely ironic conclusion that some viewpoints must be stifled to protect “human rights.”
The reason for this, as any dutiful transgender rights activist will explain, flows from the immaculate compass for all human endeavors: science. Science, we must remember, says that “gender” must not be commingled with any understanding of “sex.” And, after all, who are we to question the wisdom of science (or, apparently, the normative conclusions derived therefrom)?
Let’s be clear. No person in the scientific or medical community has decided or has the power to decide that a single person’s subjective understanding of himself can be binding on others and enforceable at law to the detriment of other constitutional rights. Not a single one. Saying otherwise is making sentimental pleas to avoid “misgendering” someone (lest we abandon “dignity,” “respect” and “safety” for non-binary people, you see), nothing more than glossy vernacular designed to obfuscate an otherwise clearly unlawful power grab — one that is anchored firmly in the perverse conviction that equality before the law is something to be “overcome” as it pertains to free speech and the free exercise of religion.
I suspect most disciples of non-binary teachings, at bottom, know this much to be true. As their argument goes, for non-binary people to fully enjoy their so-called “right to self-define,” our society cannot tolerate expressions of any belief contrary to such self-definition. That means all heretics must be silenced, as West Point High School has shamefully attempted.
Gender dysphoria is a very real and very tormenting experience for many people. But no person has the power to compel through law another person to betray — even tacitly — his own conscience. A free society cannot survive if that much is not true. In this case, a teacher politely declined to use a student’s preferred pronoun (note the teacher did use the student’s preferred name), explaining that his moral convictions forbade him from doing so. The teacher did not insist the student cease presenting as one gender or the other. He did not demand the student cease using the pronoun of the student’s choice. The teacher simply refused a command to speak words he believed in his heart to be untrue. And, for that, he lost his job.
Vlaming’s termination is and will remain a blemish in the history books. It represents an existential threat to our most fundamental freedoms and marks the day a hauntingly familiar precept found a home in our backyard: Say what I want or lose your job, no matter if you believe it.
Yet, for now, hope remains. In a remarkable act of courage, Vlaming has put his foot down for freedom. I pray he is successful.
Thomas Wheatley is a lawyer and regular contributor to The Washington Post’s Local Opinions.