Friday, October 22

Appeals Court: Ohio Professor’s “Misgendering Student as Protected Speech” Case Can Move Forward

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An appeals court has ruled that Nicholas Meriwether can move ahead to try to prove his case that Shawnee State University violated his First Amendment religious and free speech rights by mandating pronouns that he said did not reflect “biological reality” and contradicted his Christian beliefs.

Nicholas Meriwether

Meriwether has been employed since 1996 as a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio.  In January 2018, he referred to a trans female student as “sir” and repeatedly refused to address her with correct “she/her” pronouns even after being corrected. The university’s administration issued him a written warning in accordance with their nondiscrimination statement.

Meriwether sued the university in November of 2018, claiming that his constitutional rights were being infringed. He was represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian organization.

“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 read.

The university argued that it was part of Meriwether’s job to respect students’ pronouns. A U.S. district court agreed and ruled in the university’s favor in February of 2020, dismissing the suit.

Meriwether appealed to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in May of 2020, asserting that the student he had misgendered had not been denied any educational rights.

On March 26, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Meriwether could continue to sue the university, concluding that he had “plausibly alleged that Shawnee State burdened his free-exercise rights.”

“By forbidding Meriwether from describing his views on gender identity even in his syllabus, Shawnee State silenced a viewpoint that could have catalyzed a robust and insightful in-class discussion,” wrote Thapar.
The appeals court has now returned the lawsuit to a Cincinnati judge who dismissed it in February 2020.

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