You might not be interested in cancel culture, but cancel culture might be interested in you.
For over 20 years, Dr. Nicholas Meriwether has taught on the intersection of philosophy, ethics, religion, and political theory at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio.
One day, a male student raised his hand in class. Dr. Meriwether responded, “Yes, sir” as he had typically done with other students for years. He often referred to his students as “sir” or “ma’am” or by a title like Mr. or Miss followed by their last name. The formality fosters an atmosphere of seriousness, mutual respect, and courtesy. And he always referred to students based on their biological sex. After all, that is who they really are.
However, after class, the student approached Dr. Meriwether, identified as a woman, and insisted on being referred to as such, with feminine pronouns and titles. When Dr. Meriwether expressed reservations, the student became belligerent, threatening to get Dr. Meriwether fired if he didn’t give in to these demands.
Shortly after this incident, Dr. Meriwether offered to accommodate the student by addressing him by a preferred name and dropping the use of sex-specific titles. While the university initially approved this arrangement, upon further insistence from the student, the university reversed its stance. Now, according to the university, Dr. Meriwether had to use the student’s preferred pronouns or eliminate all sex-referencing terms from his vocabulary—for all students, at all times.
Dr. Meriwether’s core beliefs are why he’s devoted his career to education. His faith also governs the way he thinks about human nature, marriage, gender, sexuality, morality, politics, and social issues. Yet, the university insists that he contradict his core beliefs by using pronouns and saying a message that violates his conscience. Refusal to comply would result in Dr. Meriwether facing punishment that would end his career as a professor. In other words, he was being cancelled. But Dr. Meriwether wouldn’t accept that outcome. He stood up. See what happened when he did.
At first, the district court ruled against Dr. Meriwether. But Dr. Meriwether appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and won—and cancel culture lost.
The Sixth Circuit rightly understood that public universities like Shawnee State cannot compel Dr. Meriwether to speak a message that he disagrees with—and pronouns and titles express a message. Our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion not only include the freedom to speak messages in accordance with our core beliefs but also the freedom not to speak messages against our core beliefs.
The Sixth Circuit elaborated that government cannot mandate ideological conformity. American universities have been traditionally understood to be places where controversial ideas are discussed and debated, and intellectual diversity can flourish. They shouldn’t be institutional assembly lines that manufacture only one type of thinking and shouldn’t stifle debate by picking sides. Yet, this is what Shawnee State University did. In their decision, the Sixth Circuit said that “Shawnee State…punished a professor for his speech on a hotly contested issue.”
ADF is committed to winning cases like these. Cancel culture can be defeated. All it takes is for people like Dr. Meriwether—and you—to stand up to it.
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Working with ADF attorneys, Lorie Smith’s case currently awaits a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, after a lower court ruled against her earlier this year.