The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously ruled on Friday that Shawnee State University violated professor Nicholas Meriwether’s First Amendment rights when it punished him for resisting the school’s rules on using students’ “preferred pronouns.”
“Traditionally, American universities have been beacons of intellectual diversity and academic freedom,” wrote Circuit Judge Amul Thapar in a 32-page decision.
“[American universities] have prided themselves on being forums where controversial ideas are discussed and debated. And they have tried not to stifle debate by picking sides.
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.”
He was punished in 2016 after a student complained about Meriwether’s usage of “Mr.” instead of “Ms.” when responding to this student in the class.
“Professor Meriwether indicated that he would be willing to refer to this student with his last name or his first name, and just avoid the use of pronouns,” said Tyson Langhofer from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the legal group that represented Meriwether in the case.
“What the university was requiring was that Professor Meriwether change the way he addressed the entire class, and that he could not use any pronouns for any other students at all. … And that’s exactly what the First Amendment forbids.”
Meriweather is a “devout Christian” and believes “God created human beings as either male or female, that this sex is fixed in each person from the moment of conception, and that it cannot be changed, regardless of an individual’s feelings or desires,” and that he cannot “affirm as true ideas and concepts that are not true,” Thapar, a Trump appointee, wrote in the decision.
“Nobody should be forced to contradict their core beliefs just to keep their job,” said John Bursch, who is from the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and represented Meriwether in court.
Meriwether and ADF’s Langhofer were interviewed about the case on Fox News in 2019: