Photo credit: amboo who? via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Battle over Pronouns Presents Growing Threat to First Amendment


Earlier this month, a Virginia high school teacher was fired over his declining to use a transgender student’s preferred gender pronouns. Peter Vlaming had been a French teacher at West Point High School for the last seven years. However, when a female student of his returned to school after summer break as a transgender male, Vlaming told the student that, because of his Christian faith, he could not refer to the student using male pronouns. This stance put Vlaming at odds with the school’s administration.

Superintendent Laura Abel’s claims that Vlaming was causing a “hostile learning environment” seem absurd considering the circumstances. Vlaming consented to using the student’s new male name, and rephrased his conversations to avoid using any pronouns at all, thus eliminating the present conflict. Not only was Vlaming not escalating the hostility of the situation, he was actively reducing it. Nevertheless, the West Point School Board disagreed, making the decision to fire Vlaming by a unanimous vote.

While schools across the country have spent time in the spotlight for bathroom policies, this is the first widely reported case of a teacher getting fired for a disagreement over pronoun usage. However, given how broadly and incessantly progressives have been pushing this issue, it seems likely cases such as this will be seen much more frequently in the coming months.

Of course, there have been several previous warning signs of this development. In 2016, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson published an admonition to Americans, cautioning that the persecution he was already enduring in Canada for the defense of his personal views was coming for us across the border, and swiftly. “There is nothing in the absence of freedom of speech but tyranny and slavery,” he wrote. His warning was well timed; although buried by mass media, one of America’s first cases of a teacher being fired over pronoun usage had just occurred the previous year.

In 2015, Madeline Kirksey, a teacher at Children’s Lighthouse Learning Center in Katy, Texas, was fired after refusing to start calling her six-year-old female student a boy mid-term. Similarly to the case of Peter Vlaming, one day one of Kirksey’s female students arrived at school with a shorter haircut, and school staff were informed the student now identified as a boy. However, when Kirksey refused to call the student by male pronouns, she was swiftly fired. (Curiously, when the student’s confused classmates attempted to comply with the pronoun change, the student burst out on the playground, “I’m not a boy!”)

What all these cases should draw attention to is the danger posed by progressives’ gender ideology to Americans’ First Amendment rights. While some may not object to using another’s preferred pronouns, all should be concerned by a government which compels its citizens to use certain words. Language represents reality, and as Orwell and others have taught us, changing people’s language is an effective way of changing the way they see the world around them. The progressive movement’s attempt to change language to represent the false reality of gender politics is therefore a grave assault our American liberty, one which all citizens concerned with preserving that liberty ought to stand up and oppose.

Photo credit: amboo who? via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Reagan Cool

Reagan Cool works for the American Principles Project.

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