Richmond Times-Dispatch

French teacher with vague Christian beliefs is fired for rejecting transgender pronouns

French teacher with vague Christian beliefs is fired for rejecting transgender pronouns

Greetings from the LGBTQ front lines, where this article caused a lot of chatter last week. It has all the earmarks of a good culture wars story: transgenderism, sex, the First Amendment, tax dollars and public schools. What more could you want?

What is my journalism issue with this Richmond Times-Dispatch story? The French teacher at the center of this employment drama insists that he is acting on his Christian beliefs — beliefs so vague that readers aren’t told what they are or how they relate to the student.

Here’s a good First Amendment/religious liberty story brewing here, yet readers are told next to nothing about the crucial facts about the role of religion in this case. For example: Try to find a reference to the teacher’s church tradition and its doctrines.

WEST POINT — A Virginia high school teacher was fired Thursday for refusing to use a transgender student’s new pronouns, a case believed to be the first of its kind in the state.

After a four-hour hearing, the West Point School Board voted 5-0 to terminate Peter Vlaming, a French teacher at West Point High School who resisted administrators’ orders to use male pronouns to refer to a ninth-grade student who had undergone a gender transition. The board met in closed session for nearly an hour before the vote.

Like a similar transgender rights case in nearby Gloucester County that eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Vlaming’s situation could present a novel legal case as public bodies continue to grapple with how to reconcile anti-discrimination policies with the rights of religious employees.

All this is taking place not far from colonial Williamsburg in southeastern Virginia.

Vlaming, 47, who had taught at the school for almost seven years after spending more than a decade in France, told his superiors his Christian faith prevented him from using male pronouns for a student he saw as female.

The student’s family informed the school system of the transition over the summer. Vlaming said he had the student in class the year before when the student identified as female.

Maybe this is evident to the reporter, but what about the teacher’s Christian faith is forbidding him to change pronouns on this student?

Does he feel he is lying? Does he believe that gender is linked to DNA, at conception? I am curious.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

No ghosts here: Faith in the 'Vindication' of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell

No ghosts here: Faith in the 'Vindication' of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell

There was big news in Virginia on Thursday.

The banner headline atop today's Richmond Times-Dispatch makes that evident.

This is the straight-news, inverted-pyramid version of what happened:

Federal prosecutors on Thursday moved to drop their corruption case against former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, bringing to a close a case that gripped the state capital, tarnishing the former governor’s reputation and the state’s.
In a brief motion, federal prosecutors asked the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to send the case back to a district court. There, the U.S. will file a motion to dismiss the indictment against Bob McDonnell — once touted as a potential Republican candidate for national office — and against Virginia’s former first lady.
“Today is a great day in which my family and I rejoice,” Bob McDonnell said in a statement. “More than 3½ years after learning of an investigation, the final day of vindication has arrived.”
The Justice Department said in a brief statement: “After carefully considering the Supreme Court’s recent decision” overturning Bob McDonnell’s convictions “and the principles of federal prosecution, we have made the decision not to pursue the case further.”
In September 2014, a federal jury in Richmond convicted Virginia’s 71st governor and the former first lady on corruption charges stemming from their acceptance of more than $177,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., then-CEO of Star Scientific, in exchange for promoting the company’s dietary supplement, Anatabloc.

So where is the religion angle in this long-running political drama? Why highlight this story here at GetReligion?

Because there's a strong faith component to the former governor's reaction to the dropped charges — and the Times Dispatch absolutely nails that focus in its coverage.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The seat of the matter: Most media updates on Target store controversy miss the obvious

The seat of the matter: Most media updates on Target store controversy miss the obvious

The Target store chain, rocked for months by controversy over its bathroom policy, finally threw in the towel and said it would spend $20 million to build single restrooms for all its stores. Coverage of the announcement, though, was less complete, much of it bypassing the moral/religious cause of the national media storm.

The fracas began this year after Target announced that anyone could use its restrooms based the gender he/she identified with. "Everyone -- every team member, every guest, and every community -- deserves to be protected from discrimination, and treated equally," the statement said.

The announcement followed North Carolina's passage of a law requiring everyone to use the public restroom of his/her biological sex. Transgendered people, their LGBT allies and social liberals cried foul.
 
Perhaps Target saw a PR opportunity, but it backfired, drawing boycott demands via social media and pickets in front of some stores. For GetReligion readers, the key is that most of the opposition was coming from religious and cultural conservatives. We will come back to that.

This week, the chain confessed that earnings were down -- and, just coincidentally, it was adding the single restrooms.

Now you're up to speed. How have mainstream media been doing?  Not too well, in the case of America's largest newspaper chain. 

USA Today leads with the numbers -- adjusted earnings per share, same-store sales change and such -- then finally gets to the objections in the eighth paragraph:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Election-year theodicy? Washington Post explores rise of faith-haunted, political obits

Election-year theodicy? Washington Post explores rise of faith-haunted, political obits

So do you remember Mary Anne Noland of Richmond, Va.? Her name surfaced recently in a way that was both humorous and poignant, during a "Crossroads" podcast about the "lesser of two evils" dilemma faced by many voters in this year's White House campaign.

All over America, people were talking about her obituary in The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Some people thought this was a hoax, perhaps something from The Onion. The folks at Snopes.com quickly verified that this viral sensation was the real deal.

If you do not recall the details, here is how the Noland obit opened:

NOLAND, Mary Anne Alfriend. Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016, at the age of 68. Born in Danville, Va., Mary Anne was a graduate of Douglas Freeman High School (1966) and the University of Virginia School of Nursing (1970). A faithful child of God, Mary Anne devoted her life to sharing the love she received from Christ with all whose lives she touched as a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend and nurse. ...

You could see, in the Noland obituary, that this family's faith was woven into this story and linked, somehow, to the disdain they felt toward the two major candidates (depending, of course, on the outcome of the crucial FBI primary and the growing revolt among GOP delegates, many of them cultural and moral conservatives).

Surely this obituary was a one-of-a-kind heart cry, right? As it turns out, it was not. That leads us to a quite amazing feature in The Washington Post that ran under the headline, "Disdain for Trump and Clinton is so strong, even the dead are campaigning."

Did this feature deal with the moral and religious elements of this phenomenon? Sort of.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Theodicy in the White House race? Believers facing a choice that is more than political

Theodicy in the White House race? Believers facing a choice that is more than political

The first time someone sent me the link to this obituary from The Richmond Times-Dispatch, I was sure that it had to be a fraud, perhaps something produced by those talented tricksters at The Onion.

Ah, but the URL did, indeed, take readers to the proper news website in Richmond.

Now, when you think something is a fraud one of the first things you do is head over to Snopes.com to see if that crew had rendered a verdict. Indeed, the Snopes team is flying a "True" flag. This citizen wanted to send a message to the world.

Thus, I mentioned this instantly viral obituary during this week's "Crossroads" podcast discussing the whole "lesser of two evils" conflict that many cultural and religious conservatives are experiencing during this election year. Click here to tune that in and we'll come back to my Universal "On Religion" column on that topic.

But here is the top of the obituary in question. When host Todd Wilken and I were discussing this on the air, I just couldn't get my self to use the woman's name. Why? Well, because the first couple of people I discussed this with -- face to face -- kind of turned pale and asked if suicide was involved. The answer is "no."

NOLAND, Mary Anne Alfriend. Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016, at the age of 68.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Breaking! Politician says Christianity is only true religion

E.W. Jackson says non-Christians are engaged in ‘some sort of false religion’

Please respect our Commenting Policy