An Ohio professor who was formally disciplined by his university for refusing to use a student’s preferred pronouns can sue, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
CNN reported that Shawnee State University philosophy professor Nicholas Meriwether received a win in court after appealing a lower court’s decision finding that he could not sue for violation of his constitutional rights. Meriwether had sued SSU in 2018 after being disciplined for refusing to use a student’s preferred pronouns despite a school policy requiring him to do so.
“A district court previously dismissed Meriwether’s lawsuit for lack of standing. Friday’s decision by a three-judge panel from the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals revives the lawsuit and sends it back to a lower court where Meriwether can make his argument that his First Amendment rights of free speech and religion and his 14th Amendment right to due process were violated,” CNN reported.
Judge Amul Thapar, a President Donald Trump appointee, wrote in the court’s 32-page opinion that “Traditionally, American universities have been beacons of intellectual diversity and academic freedom.”
“They have prided themselves on being forums where controversial ideas are discussed and debated. And they have tried not to stifle debate by picking sides,” Thapar added.
“But Shawnee State chose a different route: It punished a professor for his speech on a hotly contested issue. And it did so despite the constitutional protections afforded by the First Amendment. The district court dismissed the professor’s free-speech and free-exercise claims. We see things differently and reverse,” Thapar wrote.
The other two members of the appeals court who ruled in favor of Meriwether were also Republican nominees, one from President George W. Bush and another from Trump.
The Daily Wire’s Hank Berrien previously reported that Meriwether refused to address a male student who identifies as female by the student’s preferred pronouns, instead referring to the student as “sir,” saying that his evangelical Christian beliefs were behind his actions.
“To accede to these demands would have required Dr. Meriwether to communicate views regarding gender identity that he does not hold, that he does not wish to communicate, and that would contradict (and force him to violate) his sincerely held Christian beliefs.” The lawsuit also notes that Meriwether addresses students as “sir” or “Miss” to show respect,” Berrien wrote.
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Cincinnati.com reported that when they met after class, Meriwether said the student circled Meriwether threateningly and compared the professor’s refusal to use the student’s preferred pronouns to someone calling him a “c***.”
According to Heavy.com, the student complained twice to the university, prompting a Title IX investigation. Heavy.com also noted that Meriwether said he would address the student using the student’s last name.
Shawnee State University started a Title IX investigation, deciding Meriwether had violated the school anti-discrimination policy when he refused to call the student by the student’s preferred pronouns. The university issued a written rebuke.
In February 2020, a lower court dismissed Meriwether’s lawsuit, writing “Plaintiff’s refusal to address a student in class in accordance with the student’s gender identity does not implicate broader societal concerns and the free speech clause of the First Amendment under the circumstances of this case.”
Further, the court said Meriwether hadn’t been forced to use speech with which he disagreed because he had been given the option to remove all gendered language from the classroom.
Meriwether had attempted to compromise. He said he called his students by either “Mr.” or “Ms.” and their last name. He offered to call the transgender student simply by their last name. The court said this was still discrimination and suggested Meriwether call all students by their last name. Meriwether refused, so the court concluded he had not been forced to express a view with which he disagreed and claimed pronouns and titles are not the same as expressing a belief.
The decision by the appeals court sends the case back to the lower court for further consideration.