Compelled Speech: Virginia Teacher Fired Over Religious Beliefs

A Virginia teacher was fired last week over his refusal to use the preferred pronoun of a ninth-grade transgender student. Peter Vlaming had been suspended without pay since late October and the West Point Consolidated School District unanimously voted to terminate his employment following a public hearing.

At the public hearing, Vlaming stated that “My religious faith 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.” He then went on to say:

“I am also aware of, and agree with, speech limits that are placed on public-school teachers concerning matters of religious faith. I represent the state in my role as a public-school teacher and therefore speak with a certain authority. That authority is not to be used to promote any one specific worldview, and I don’t. However, we are here today because a specific worldview is being imposed upon me.”

West Point High School is, in effect, trying to force compelled speech on their teachers, something that the Supreme Court has already ruled unconstitutional in a prior case. Ruling on West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, Mr. Justice Jackson delivered the opinion of the court, which included this:

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”

Vlaming’s lawyer has already stated that the school board’s requirement is “unconstitutional compelled speech,” and they will be assessing all legal options.

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