For over 20 years, philosophy professor Dr. Nicholas Meriwether has brought many of his students to understand that the academic enterprise is a serious, weighty endeavor. One way he does this is to use formal address with his students, referring to them as “sir” or “ma’am.” His practice was until recently, largely uncontroversial. But Dr. Meriwether’s superiors are punishing him for the simple act of recognizing a student being male or female—an objective fact that aligns with Dr. Meriwether’s Christian convictions as to human nature, marriage, gender, sexuality, morality, politics, and social issues—not to mention the nature of mankind being created as male or female. Now, Dr. Meriwether is fighting back.
Let’s take a look.
During a political philosophy class session, Dr. Meriwether responded to a male student’s question by saying, “Yes, sir.” The student later confronted Dr. Meriwether and insisted on being addressed as a woman. Meriwether declined, and the student became hostile, threatened to get him fired, and eventually filed a complaint with the university.
Instead of standing by an esteemed and accomplished professor with over 20 years’ service to the school, the university went after Dr. Meriwether. The dean of the College of Arts & Sciences sent him a “formal notification,” first threatening an investigation if he did not comply, then starting the investigation before Dr. Meriwether even had a chance to reply. And school officials refused to interview other students who might have been impartial observers.
Dr. Meriwether proposed to compromise by using only the student’s first or last name, but the school officials rejected his offer, telling him he must use whatever pronouns his students insisted upon, based on the school’s non-discrimination policy. They also told him even if he agreed to their demands he could not add a disclaimer to his syllabus to note that he was forced against his conscience to use pronouns contradictory to a student’s biological sex. They thus left him the choice of violating his conscience or creating what they deemed a “hostile environment” in his classroom—the same classroom in which he cultivates mutual respect and dignity for everyone.
The university’s outright hostility toward Dr. Meriwether’s conscientious beliefs did not improve. He sought relief from the school’s attacks on his First Amendment rights via an internal grievance, only to have the provost openly laugh at his religious beliefs. The provost also reiterated that telling his students he was forced to violate his conscience would still be discriminatory behavior and dismissed any attempts at a compromise.
Earlier, the chair of the humanities department mocked his religion by saying Christians are primarily motivated out of fear and that faculty members who adhere to a certain religion should be banned from teaching courses regarding that religion. For a university that is supposedly worried about creating hostile environments, the administrators apparently don’t have a problem creating a hostile environment for Christian professors.
Because of this, Dr. Meriwether and Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit against the school for compelling him to violate his First Amendment rights. ADF Senior Counsel Travis Barham explained:
Tolerance is a two-way street. Universities are meant to be a marketplace of ideas, not an assembly line for one type of thought, but apparently, Shawnee State has ignored that foundational truth. The university refused to consider any solutions that would respect the freedoms of everyone involved. It instead chose to impose its own orthodoxy on Dr. Meriwether under threat of further punishment if he doesn’t relinquish his rights protected by the First Amendment.
Dr. Meriwether’s plight is one example of the troubling trend on college campuses where only one set of beliefs is allowed. Instead of letting people express any and all ideas, students, teachers, and speakers are shouted down, see their displays vandalized, and are even arrested. If Dr. Meriwether treated his students the way Shawnee State is treating him, he would force them to use pronouns corresponding to their birth sex under threat of failing the class. Fortunately for his students, he believes in treating people with respect.
Shawnee State University officials, however, are acting as the enforcers of political correctness while unapologetically trampling on sincerely held religious beliefs. Tyson Langhofer, the director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, puts it this way:
Public universities have no business compelling people to express ideological beliefs that they don’t hold. This isn’t just about a pronoun; this is about endorsing an ideology. The university favors certain beliefs, and it wants to force Dr. Meriwether to cry uncle and endorse them as well. That’s neither legal nor constitutional, and neither was the process the university has used to get to this point. We are asking the court to order the university to respect Dr. Meriwether’s freedoms.
College officials who promote “tolerance” should know that true tolerance is a two-way street and is not practiced by enforcing one set of ideas on people who might disagree. It's time for universities to respect the beliefs of all, not some.