December 07, 2018
You've heard of the "Emperor's New Clothes" -- well, now it's the emperor's new gender. And in the Leftist-dominated schools of America, saying there is no such thing just might cost you your job. That's the astounding reality in Virginia, where a high school teacher was fired last night for telling administrators he couldn't call a girl a boy. Peter Vlaming, the popular French teacher at West Point High, didn't set out to become the newest face in the war on religious liberty. But then, he probably never dreamed using the correct pronoun would cost him his teaching career either.
For Vlaming, the board's decision at yesterday's public hearing was a shock. After all, he'd offered a perfectly acceptable compromise. "I'm totally happy to use [her] new name," he said. When it came to other references, he would try "to avoid female pronouns... because I'm not here to provoke..." But, he was clear, "I can't refer to a female as a male, and a male as a female in good conscience and faith."
That wasn't good enough for the students' parents -- or West Point High's leadership, who suspended Vlaming in October -- and then last night, ended his tenure for good. District Superintendent Laura Abel tried to defend the school's decision, claiming that his "discrimination leads to creating a hostile learning environment," she argued. "And the student had expressed that. The parent had expressed that. They felt disrespected."
But how do you think Vlaming – and every student or staffer who operates in reality -- feels? Respected? The school's intolerance for teachers who refuse to participate in a fantasy creates a hostile environment all right -- but for truth!
Shawn Voyles, Vlaming's attorney, is flabbergasted that the school is trying to justify their own discrimination by accusing his client of it. "Tolerance is a two-way street," Voyles told reporters. "My client respects this student's rights -- he's simply asking that his rights be respected as well." And here's what's astonishing: there was a solution on the table that respected everyone's wishes. The fact that the school refused to accept it shows just how uninterested they are in creating a safe and open-minded environment. This wasn't about coexistence -- it was about conformity.
The real issue here, Voyles explained, isn't the student. The issue is that the district is forcing a teacher to lie as a condition of his employment. "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."
At times, the emotional four-hour hearing -- filled to the brim with Vlaming's supporters -- was almost surreal. Here is an educator, of all people, being ordered by his own school to reject the subjects they're teaching! Biology, language, psychology, worldview -- without universal truths (or at least a factual basis), they're all moot. Still, the board didn't just vote to sack Vlaming, they voted unanimously to send the message across public schools that non-conformers need not apply.
Like a lot of people, FRC's Cathy Ruse is amazed at the double standard. "So students are allowed to remain silent during the Pledge of Allegiance, but this teacher couldn't remain silent when it came to pronouns?" What makes the case even more ridiculous, she points out, is that Vlaming was fired over a third-person pronoun, which (in case the school's forgotten in its wholesale rejection of grammar) isn't used when you address someone face-to-face. Third-person pronouns are used in the student's absence -- when you're speaking to others about "him" or "her." So this is not a question of courtesy. In all likelihood, the student would've never even heard Vlaming utter the pronoun he was fired for!
"My religious faith," Vlaming tried to explain, "dictates that I am to love and respect everyone, whether I agree with them or not -- because we are all made in God's image." It was that image Vlaming wanted so desperately to honor.
In the end, this is a tragedy for everyone. Not just because it cost Peter his job -- but because it cost a hurting girl the one adult in her life who was willing to love her as God made her.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.