Doctors, feminists, Trump education officials defend teacher fired for not using preferred pronouns
Educators have hot streak in federal courts, and Virginia Supreme Court offers new opportunity to protect their speech and religious rights beyond First Amendment under state constitution.
The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook
- using a student's preferred name but not gender pronouns
- its own free-exercise clause is stronger than the First Amendment's
- opening brief
- Shawnee State University violated Nicholas Meriwether's rights
- He got a $400,000 settlement
- U.S. District Judge Holly Teeter blocked
- brief by doctors
- questioned the clinical basis
- Kissel and Bader wrote
- Attorney General Jason Miyares wrote
- Women's Liberation Front wrote
- First Amendment lawsuit against California's gender self-identification prison law
- surrender her license or face investigation
- Darlingh's lawyers told DPI
- state law
A cross-ideological coalition is backing a devout Christian teacher who was fired by a Virginia school district for using a student's preferred name but not gender pronouns.
Family physicians with public health backgrounds, religious groups, radical feminists, former federal education officials and the state's attorney general filed friend-of-the-court briefs with the Virginia Supreme Court, which is considering whether its own free-exercise clause is stronger than the First Amendment's.
The West Point School Board fired French teacher Peter Vlaming for not "expressing personal agreement with the government's viewpoint on an issue of public concern," his opening brief says.
Residents may "maintain their opinions in matters of religion" without diminishing "their civil capacities" under the Virginia Constitution, which the high court should interpret as more protective than the U.S. Constitution, Vlaming's lawyers at the Alliance Defending Freedom wrote.
Two years ago, Virginia's first transgender lawmaker invoked Vlaming's student "James' in a "fiery" Assembly speech in favor of a gender-identity bill that became law, the Virginia Mercury reported.
Democratic Del. Danica Roem, the subject of a glowing Washingtonian profile last month, blasted "discriminatory politicians" like Republican Del. Dave LaRock, who said Vlaming was a victim of policies "used to punish anyone who does not agree with the ideology of the day."
The Virginia legal effort is a parallel to the hot streak educators have recently enjoyed in federal courts on First Amendment rights versus so-called "gender-affirming" school policies.
Multiple briefs noted the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Shawnee State University violated Nicholas Meriwether's rights by threatening to fire him for refusing to use a student's preferred pronouns even while using the student's preferred name. He got a $400,000 settlement this spring.
Earlier this month, a federal court in Kansas ruled Geary County Schools cannot discipline a teacher for telling parents about their children's secret gender identities at school.
U.S. District Judge Holly Teeter blocked its gag-order policy, finding the district unconstitutionally "intended to interfere with the parents' exercise of a constitutional right to raise their children as they see fit" and justified the policy based on a misreading of federal student privacy law.
Gender-affirmation policies are "based on ideologically driven premises lacking sound scientific evidence and contrary to the best interests of children," said the brief by doctors led by Quentin Van Meter, president of the American College of Pediatricians, which has questioned the clinical basis for transgender youth interventions.
These policies encourage children and their families to see medical and surgical interventions as "desirable" without communicating the "irreversible effects ... and the harms they pose to developing bodies," they wrote.
Van Meter described his impression of U.S. transgender clinic pioneer Norman Spack's presentation at a joint meeting of the Pediatric Endocrine Society and the European Endocrine Society in 2009.
Spack represented "a regression" to the methods of Van Meter's onetime Johns Hopkins colleague, sexologist John Money, whose 1970s experiments on infants, toddlers and adults "failed miserably" and "today would be grounds for conviction of sexual abuse," the brief says.
The district's policy exceeds even the recommendations of the Endocrine Society and World Professional Association of Transgender Health, "which are purportedly the source for the policy requiring immediate affirmation," they wrote.
Former Department of Education Deputy Assistant Secretary Adam Kissel and Office for Civil Rights lawyer Hans Bader, who worked on First Amendment and Title IX issues respectively, said the district had also misread regulatory standards and case law to justify its policy.
Courts have ruled out "hostile environment" or Title IX violations for "conduct far more severe and pervasive," Kissel and Bader wrote. "Vlaming treated Doe in a polite manner at all times," and refusing to use preferred pronouns is "not a denial of educational access," according to their brief.
Even if his speech "could be prohibited by a more narrowly drawn policy," Vlaming's rights would have been violated, the Trump administration veterans told the court.
The state's 15-year-old Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), signed by then-Gov. Tim Kaine (D), also protects Vlaming against compelled speech, Attorney General Jason Miyares wrote.
West Point has not shown the coerced pronoun usage "advances a compelling interest in complying with federal prohibitions on discrimination" or is the "least restrictive means" to comply instead of Vlaming's compromise of using the student's name only, he said.
The high court should interpret the state's RFRA through its previous analysis of the federal RFRA and First Amendment, Miyares argued.
"Identity-based language mandates" in the workplace are not only "inextricably regressive and sexist" but "isolate and threaten" employees who "simply want to perform their jobs without being compelled to support beliefs they do not share," the Women's Liberation Front wrote.
They particularly undermine women's rights and civil liberties "in service of a movement whose goal is to deprive the concepts of sex, male, and female of any stable meaning," said the group, which is representing female inmates in a First Amendment lawsuit against California's gender self-identification prison law.
One of the radical feminists' own is facing professional ruin for speaking at a gender-critical rally at the Wisconsin capitol.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction gave school counselor Marissa Darlingh a choice: surrender her license or face investigation for saying "f— transgenderism" and pledging that students wouldn't socially or medically transition under her "f—ing watch."
While the basis for the investigation is "immoral conduct," Darlingh's lawyers told DPI the Wisconsin statute only gives two examples, neither speech-related: "use of pornography in schools and knowingly assisting a child-sex predator to obtain a job in a school."
Rallying at the state capitol is "quintessential protected speech," the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty wrote, challenging DPI to provide another example where it investigated an educator for using "profanity when speaking on their own time, even in a publicly accessible forum."
DPI spokesperson Chris Bucher told Just the News the surrender offer has been "standard practice" since February and that there's no timeline for investigation.
He declined to answer what role the f-word played in the investigation, how it compared to the statute's two examples, and the nature of its other "immoral conduct" investigations, saying state law only allows DPI to acknowledge the investigation and "date of the revocation hearing."
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