– Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a Shawnee State University professor filed an appeal
Thursday of a federal judge’s decision
to dismiss his lawsuit against the school. The university punished philosophy professor Nicholas Meriwether because he declined a male student’s demand to be referred to as a woman, with feminine titles and pronouns (“Miss,” “she,” etc.).
Although the philosophy professor offered to use any name the student requested, the university rejected that compromise, choosing instead to force the professor to speak and act contrary to his own Christian convictions and philosophical beliefs.
“Professors don’t give up their First Amendment freedoms simply by choosing to teach,” said ADF Senior Counsel Travis Barham. “Public universities have no business trying to force people to express ideological beliefs that they do not hold. Dr. Meriwether remains committed to serving all students with respect, but he cannot express all messages or endorse all ideologies. When the university tried to force him to do this and then punished him for exercising his rights, it violated the First Amendment.”
“The magistrate judge misinterpreted and misapplied the law. The district court should not have adopted her recommendations and dismissed the case,” Barham explained. “That’s why we’re asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to reverse both rulings and allow Dr. Meriwether to continue pursuing justice.”
In January 2018, during a political philosophy class Meriwether was teaching, he responded to a male student’s question by saying, “Yes, sir.” After the class, the student approached Meriwether, stated that he was transgender, and demanded that the professor refer to him as a woman, with feminine titles and pronouns. When Meriwether did not instantly agree, the student became belligerent and promised to get Meriwether fired.
The student then filed a complaint with the university, which launched a formal investigation. Meriwether offered to call the student by any name the student requested, but university officials rejected this and anything else that would allow him to speak according to his conscience and sincerely held religious beliefs. Instead, they formally charged him, saying “he effectively created a hostile environment” for the student. Later, they placed a written warning in his personnel file and threatened “further corrective actions” unless he articulates the university’s ideological message.
“This isn’t just about a pronoun; this is about endorsing an ideology,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “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.”
Thomas W. Kidd, Jr., one of more than 3,400 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case, Meriwether v. The Trustees of Shawnee State University