A Shawnee State University philosophy professor has won a court appeal claiming violation of his First Amendment right to free speech after his university punished him for refusing to refer to a biological male with feminine pronouns. As a result of the unanimous decision of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit the professor’s plan to sue the university may proceed.
At the beginning of the spring, 2019 academic year, Professor Nicholas Meriweather called on a student who raised his hand, addressing him as, “yes, sir.” The student took offense, so Professor Meriweather attempted to accommodate the student by addressing him exclusively by his name. However, the university administration informed Meriweather, who had been teaching at the university for 25 years, that he would be required to address the student by his preferred feminine pronouns or face disciplinary action, including possible termination. Meriweather balked. “What I cannot do,” he wrote, “is to speak in such a way that implies that a man is a woman or a woman a man. In other words, to refer to a student in such a way that I imply something that is not true, that I know to be false, to effectively lie, and so violate my conscience as a philosopher and as a Christian.”
Judge Amul Thapar, who wrote the decision, said, “The First Amendment interests are especially strong here because Meriweather’s speech also relates to his core religious and philosophical beliefs. … If professors lacked free-speech protections when teaching, a university would wield alarming power to compel ideological conformity.”
Indeed! Employees do not become tools of their employers simply by accepting a position. It would never have occurred to Meriweather when he was first hired 25 years ago that his job would be on the line if he refused to address a male student with female pronouns. The winds of culture change, but that does not mean that employees are required to embrace each and every one of those changes in order to maintain their status as employees in good standing. What should Meriweather do if the winds change again, demanding that he address his students only by pronouns consistent with their biological sex, or if a student demands to be addressed as one might address a cat or a car? Employees do not surrender their entire autonomy when they take a job. The potential for confusion, and for disciplinary action by an employer, is unpredictable. No one would ever know when what one said or did might cause offense and put him or her in hot water.
John Bursch, attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, who represented Meriweather, said, “Nobody should be forced to contradict their core beliefs just to keep their job.”
I am glad that Prof. Meriweather fought back on this matter. Too many have surrendered their integrity to those who demand that all others unreservedly affirm their view of themselves or their worldview.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.