Christian college professor who received written warning for repeatedly addressing transgender students as’ sir ‘instead of’ ma’am, may sue university after judge rules violation of his First Amendment rights
- Prof. Nicholas Meriwether declined the student’s request to use feminine pronouns
- University graduate receives written warning from Shawnee State University about his behavior
- Trump-appointed judge said it had tried to enforce “ ideological conformity. ”
An Ohio professor of philosophy who refused to address a transgender student with feminine pronouns could sue his university for damages after a judge ruled his written warning violated his First Amendment rights.
The 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday ruled that Shawnee State University violated Prof. Nicholas Meriwether’s freedom of speech and religion by punishing him for opposing rules forcing him to address students based on their choice requirements.
Meriwether was reprimanded in 2016 after a transgender student complained that he was ‘Mr.’ instead of “madam” when she responded to her in class and repeatedly treated her like any other biologically male person, despite her desire to be addressed as a woman.
The academic, who said that the rules did not reflect “ biological reality ” and contradicted his devout Christian beliefs, received a written warning about his conduct and said he could be suspended or fired without payment for violating the non- discrimination policy.
Prof. Nicholas Meriwether’s (pictured) declined to address a transgender female student as ‘madam’ instead of ‘madam’
Trump-appointed Circuit Judge Amul Thapar wrote to a panel of three judges, saying Meriwether was simply communicating on a “ hotly contested ” issue of public concern, whether a person’s gender could be changed.
He also said that Portsmouth-based Shawnee State offered no evidence that Meriwether’s decision not to use feminine pronouns affected his job, hindered school activities, or denied educational benefits to the student, known as Jane Doe, who received a high degree.
“If professors were not protected from freedom of speech while teaching, a university would wield alarming power to enforce ideological conformity,” Thapar wrote.
A university president might require a pacifist to declare war righteous, a civil rights icon to condemn the Freedom Riders, a believer who denies the existence of God, or a Soviet who addresses his students as “ comrades. ” , ” he added. ‘That is not possible.’
He sent the lawsuit back to a judge in Cincinnati, who dismissed it in February 2020. Various interest groups submitted briefings in which they supported both sides.
The decision paves the way for Meriwether, who had taught at Shawnee State University since 1996, to seek damages.
Shawnee State and its attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian conservative law firm based in Arizona specializing in matters related to “ religious freedom, sanctity of life, and marriage and family, ” filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of Meriwether in November 2019.
“In January 2018, a male college student demanded that Dr. Meriwether address him as a woman for identifying himself as such and threatened that Dr. Meriwether would be fired if he refused,” read the lawsuit, the text of which was obtained by NBC News . .
“To meet these demands, Dr. Meriwether would have needed to express views on gender identity that he doesn’t have, that he doesn’t want to communicate, and that contradict (and compel him to violate) his heartfelt Christian beliefs.”
Trump-appointed Circuit Judge Amul Thapar said Meriwether was simply communicating on a ‘hotly contested’ issue of public concern whether someone’s gender could be changed
The lawsuit alleged that the university “punished” Meriwether for “expressing views different from its own orthodoxy and for refusing to express its imposed ideological message.”
“Defendants, who continue their role as self-proclaimed grammar police, threaten to punish him again if he continues to voice his opinion,” the lawsuit read.
“ According to their policy, all professors must refer to each student – both in and out of the classroom – using the pronouns that the student claims reflect their gender identity. ”
Meriwether argued in his complaint that “the number of potential gender identities is infinite” and that there are currently “over a hundred different options available.”
John Bursch, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, praised the decision.
“No one should be forced to contradict his core beliefs just to keep his job,” he said.
Shawnee State University (pictured) and her attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment