In light of the recent outcome of a First Amendment lawsuit, public universities may want to think twice before they impose “transgender” speech codes upon members of their faculty.
On April 14, 2022, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) announced that Professor Nicholas Meriwether’s lawsuit against his employer, Shawnee State University in Ohio, had settled. CBS News has reported that Professor Meriwether landed in hot water when a “transgender” student demanded that the professor refer to him with opposite-sex pronouns and titles. After Professor Meriwether declined this request, the student filed a complaint with the university. Professor Meriwether stated that he was willing to use the student’s stated name, but was unwilling to use opposite-sex pronouns or titles. According to WORLD, Professor Meriwether is a Christian who believes that a person’s sex is fixed at conception; therefore, using opposite-sex pronouns to address his student would violate his beliefs. Shawnee State University reprimanded the professor and threatened additional action if he did not comply with the student’s request.
Professor Meriwether filed a lawsuit challenging the university’s action. In 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the university had violated Professor Meriwether’s First Amendment rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion. The university later agreed to settle the case. According to ADF, the university has agreed to pay Professor Meriwether $400,000, to rescind the disciplinary action it took against him in 2018, and to pay the professor’s attorney fees; the university has also agreed that Professor Meriwether “will never be mandated to use pronouns, [even] if a student requests pronouns that conflict with his or her biological sex.”
In an unusual twist, Shawnee State University has made it clear that it does not see the error of its ways. Claiming that it made an “‘economic decision’” to settle Professor Meriwether’s case, the university “‘adamantly [denies] that anyone at Shawnee State deprived Dr. Meriwether of his free speech rights or his rights to freely exercise his religion.’” The university further contended that the lawsuit “‘was being used to advance divisive social and political agendas at a cost to the university and its students.’” Of course, the university has it backwards. The only divisive social and political agenda here is the university’s attempt to pressure a Christian professor to abide by “transgender” speech codes.