CINCINNATI – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit against Shawnee State University officials Monday on behalf of a professor that the university punished because he declined a male student’s demand to be referred to as a woman, with feminine titles and pronouns (“Miss,” “she,” etc.).
Although philosophy professor Dr. Nicholas Meriwether offered to use the student’s first or last name instead, neither the student nor the university was willing to accept that compromise, choosing instead to force the professor to speak and act contrary to his own Christian convictions.
“Tolerance is a two-way street,” said ADF Senior Counsel Travis Barham. “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.”
In January, during a political philosophy class he was teaching, Meriwether responded to a male student’s question by saying, “Yes, sir.” Meriwether responded in this fashion because he refers to all his students as “sir” or “ma’am” or by a title (Mr. or Miss, for example) followed by their last name to foster an atmosphere of seriousness and mutual respect.
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, circling around Meriwether and getting in his face in a threatening fashion while telling him, “Then I guess this means I can call you a c**t.” Before walking away, the student promised to get Meriwether fired if he did not agree to the student’s demands.
The student then filed a complaint with the university, which launched a formal investigation. Meriwether offered to call the student by his first or last name only, 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.
“Public universities have no business compelling people to express ideological beliefs that they don’t hold,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “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.”
Thomas W. Kidd, Jr., one of more than 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case, Meriwether v. The Trustees of Shawnee State University, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.
- Pronunciation guide: Barham (BEAR’-um), Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.
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