EDITORIAL: Stop masquerading your hate as religion

By Editorial Board

Maddy Asma

A slip of the tongue is a term often used by people trying to justify their actions. However, in 2019, these slips need to be taken seriously, lest more people use it as an excuse for intolerance.

In 2018, Peter Vlaming—a high school French teacher at West Point High School in Virginia—was fired for choosing not to use the male pronouns of his transgender student. Now, nearly a year later, Vlaming is filing a lawsuit against school district officials, claiming they breached his contract.

His larger claim is that he could not, “in good conscience,” use the student’s pronouns because this would go against his religious beliefs, as cited in the lawsuit.

“Mr. Vlaming’s conscience and religious practice prohibits him from intentionally lying, and he sincerely believes that referring to a female as a male by using an objectively male pronoun is telling a lie,” the lawsuit states.

Vlaming is seeking $500,000 in lost wages and benefits, and another $500,000 for suffering and emotional distress. He is also asking for his job back.

Vlaming’s wishes seem steep given the fact that he could not allow his student the courtesy to fulfill his desire to be correctly gendered. The unnamed student even addressed Vlaming after class one day saying, “Mr. Vlaming, you may have your religion, but you need to respect who I am!” according to the lawsuit.

Despite using the student’s preferred name, Vlaming repeatedly used the incorrect pronouns, though he claims this was a slip of the tongue.

And while accidents are prone to happen, especially in an ever-evolving world that asks for ever-conscious action from its participants, this slip-up is about more than just language. Respect, or lack thereof, is at the heart of this issue.

If Vlaming practiced active respect with his students, his religion would not have a part in his classroom in the first place. Moreover, working in a public institution means you check your personal affiliations at the door.

The catch to Vlaming’s claims is that he believes these pronouns are a fabrication, as if they are meant to deceive him and others. This assumption is void of respect. And instead of wrapping his head around the idea that different people exist in different ways, he doubled down on the idea that the reality of his student will skew his moral compass.

The fact that lying, in regards to religion, was the final moral straw seems specious at best, and solidifies that religious rhetoric is a weaponized tool used against the people it does not support.

In a school setting, as regrettable as it may be, teachers cannot be expected to educate and inform the future leaders of this world while not being equipped for the present. Therefore, it falls on the shoulders of institutions to update and educate their staff.

At Columbia, teachers are encouraged to include their pronouns in their email signatures and inquire about students’ pronouns their first day of classes.

Public school teachers have professional development days annually, during which issues of inclusivity in the classroom should be addressed. Even simply crafting syllabi and handbooks that use inclusive language in support of transgender and gender-nonconforming students could be powerful.

Freedom of speech and freedom of religion exist because people should have a right to navigate their own existence. However, the right to exist as you choose cannot impede the rights of others.

For that reason, Mr. Vlaming, you may have your religion, but you cannot use your ideology as an excuse for your contempt for the changing times.