Court orders university to pay Ohio professor who refused to use student’s preferred pronouns

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(Video Credit: Fox News)

Shawnee State University professor Nicholas Meriwether won a protracted lawsuit and was awarded $400,000 after he sued the Ohio academic institution for demanding that he use a student’s preferred pronouns, calling the mandate an assault on his freedom of speech that went against his Christian beliefs.

“The student approached me after class and said that he wanted to be referred to as a female, and I tried to find an accommodation with the student. I was willing to use his proper name, female proper name, and initially, the administration was willing to go along with that, but then the administration changed course and demanded that I defer to the ideology, that I refer to the student as a female and I simply could not do that,” Meriwether bluntly told Fox News’ “America Reports” in an interview on Monday.

“I believe that God created men and women, male and female. But also the idea that my speech could be coerced, could be compelled by the administration … The college classroom is to be a place of debate and discussion and freewheeling ideas. The university has no place in telling professors how they are to think with the students. It was a coercion of my freedom of speech,” he asserted.

Court documents show that the student became belligerent when Meriwether refused to use the demanded pronouns and told him he would be fired. Then the student said, “I guess this means I can call you a cu**.”

Meriwether was originally punished by the university in Portsmouth, Ohio, in 2018 after the student filed a complaint. The educational outlet claimed that it was Meriwether’s job and somehow his duty to use such language and therefore was not considered First Amendment-protected speech. The professor fought back by suing the university, arguing that his constitutional rights were violated when they forced him to go against his Christian beliefs.

The suit was initially dismissed, but on March 26, 2021, the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the dismissal and then unanimously ruled that Meriwether’s freedom of speech had been violated.

“The First Amendment interests are especially strong here because Meriwether’s speech also relates to his core religious and philosophical beliefs,” Judge Jamal Thapar wrote in the historic decision.

“If professors lacked free-speech protections when teaching, a university would wield alarming power to compel ideological conformity,” Thapar wrote.

Alliance Defending Freedom [ADF] represented Meriwether in court and won the precedent-setting case for him.

“After a three-year fight against the university, the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reportedly ruled in 2021 that Meriwether’s rights had been violated,” Fox 11 reported on the momentous win for the professor.

“Shawnee State University officials 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,” a statement by the ADF noted.

“This case forced us to defend what used to be a common belief—that nobody should be forced to contradict their core beliefs just to keep their job,” ADF Senior Counsel Travis Barham commented via the release. “Dr. Meriwether went out of his way to accommodate his students and treat them all with dignity and respect, yet his university punished him because he wouldn’t endorse an ideology that he believes is false. We’re pleased to see the university recognize that the First Amendment guarantees Dr. Meriwether—and every other American—the right to speak and act in a manner consistent with one’s faith and convictions.”

“Public universities should welcome intellectual and ideological diversity, where all students and professors can engage in meaningful discussions without compromising their core beliefs,” ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, remarked. “Dr. Meriwether rightly defended his freedom to speak and stay silent, and not conform to the university’s demand for uniformity of thought. We commend the university for ultimately agreeing to do the right thing, in keeping with its reason for existence as a marketplace of ideas.

Langhofer hopes that the win will send a warning to other universities over woke pronoun usage and constitutional rights.

“It is done, and we are hopeful it sends a message to all universities and professors that you know, we shouldn’t be compelling professors to say things they don’t believe,” Langford stated, according to Fox News.


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