A professor at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth has sued his employer claiming that he is being forced to use feminine pronouns for a biologically male student who identifies as a transgender female.
Although the professor offered to compromise by using the student’s first or last name, neither the student nor the university was willing to accept that, demanding the professor speak and act contrary to his Christian convictions, states a press release from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
ADF, a nonprofit legal agency involved in pro-family and free-speech cases, filed the lawsuit in federal court in Cincinnati earlier this week on behalf of Nicholas Meriwether, a philosophy professor at the university.
Meriwether, a member of the Presbyterian Church of America, says his worldview about human nature, gender and sexuality is framed by his Christian faith.
“Tolerance is a two-way street,” said Travis Barham, senior counsel for ADF. “Universities are meant to be a marketplace of ideas, not an assembly line for one type of thought, but apparently, Shawnee State has ignored that foundational truth.”
Barham said the university refused to consider any solutions that would respect the freedoms of everyone involved.
“Instead, it chose to impose its own orthodoxy on Meriwether under threat of further punishment if he doesn’t relinquish his rights protected by the First Amendment,” he said.
In January, during a political philosophy class that he was teaching, Meriwether responded to a male student’s question by saying, “Yes, sir.”
Meriwether said he refers to all his students as “sir,” “ma’am,” or by a title, followed by their last name to foster an atmosphere of seriousness and mutual respect.
After the class, the student approached Meriwether and informed the professor that he was transgender, and demanded the professor address him with feminine titles and pronouns.
When Meriwether did not agree, “the student became belligerent, circling around Meriwether and getting in his face in a threatening fashion while telling him, ‘then I guess this means I can call you a c–t,'” according to ADF.
Before walking away, the student promised to pursue Meriwether’s termination if he did not agree to the demands. The student then filed a complaint with the university, which launched a formal investigation.
The school refused Meriwether’s offer of a compromise and formally disciplined him, saying “he effectively created a hostile environment” for the student.
Later, the university placed a written warning in his personnel file and threatened “further corrective actions” unless he adopted the university’s policy.
“Public universities have no business compelling people to express ideological beliefs that they don’t hold,” said Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “This isn’t just about a pronoun; this is about endorsing an ideology. The university favors certain beliefs, and it wants to force Dr. Meriwether to cry uncle and endorse them as well. That’s neither legal nor constitutional, and neither was the process the university has used to get to this point. We are asking the court to order the university to respect Dr. Meriwether’s freedoms.”
Thomas W. Kidd, Jr., one of more than 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case, Meriwether v. The Trustees of Shawnee State University, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.
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Anthony Accardi is a writer and reporter for The Ohio Star.