Who is Nicholas Meriwether? 'Devout Christian' prof who refused to call trans student's pronouns wins in court
An Ohio college professor, who resisted his school’s orders to go along with transgender students’ preferred pronouns, has won his First Amendment case before a federal appeals court. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday, March 26, ruled in favor of the “devout Christian” and said that Shawnee State University officials and a lower federal district court failed to recognize the professor’s First Amendment rights to free speech and to the free exercise of his religion.
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Who is Nicholas Meriwether?
Shawnee State University employed Meriwether for 25 years. He taught philosophy, religion, ethics, and the “History of Christian Thought”. On the first day of the spring semester at Shawnee State University in 2018, a student — identified in court documents as Jane Doe — in Nicholas Meriwether’s political philosophy class raised an issue with him. During the lecture, Meriwether had called the student “sir” when she raised her hand. She told him that she identified as a woman and asked him to address her accordingly.
Meriwether, who hadn’t previously met the student or received any information about her sex or gender identity, refused her request, saying his Christian faith prevented him from talking about gender in a way he believed to be false. He instead proposed calling her only by her last name. Doe reportedly promised that Meriwether would be fired if he did not give in to her demands. Meriwether reported the incident to senior university officials, including the Dean of Students and his department chair, Jennifer Pauley.
The student, who continued to attend class, complained again. The university told Meriwether he would be forced to call the student a female. The university also refused to allow Meriwether to place a disclaimer in his syllabus which stated that he would only refer to students by their preferred pronouns “under compulsion”.
The college initiated “a less-than-thorough investigation”, and concluded that Meriwether had “created a hostile environment” and had violated “non-discrimination policies” involving “gender identity.” It also issued a written warning saying he could be fired or suspended without pay for violating campus non-discrimination policy.
As per Friday’s ruling, Meriwether “strives to live out his faith each day,” and as such, “his religious convictions influence how he thinks about human nature, marriage, gender, sexuality, morality, politics, and social issues.” The fact that Meriwether believes that “God created human beings as either male or female, that this sex is fixed in each person from the moment of conception,” is something that “cannot be changed, regardless of an individual’s feelings or desires,” the court said.
In a 32-page opinion, a three-judge panel said that the university had “punished a professor for his speech on a hotly contested issue,” and that “By forbidding Meriwether from describing his views on gender identity even in his syllabus, Shawnee State silenced a viewpoint that could have catalyzed a robust and insightful in-class discussion.” The ruling further said, “Since Meriwether has plausibly alleged that Shawnee State violated his First Amendment rights by compelling his speech or silence and casting a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom, his free-speech claim may proceed.”
The conservative legal advocacy group Alliance for Defending Freedom, which represents Meriwether, called Friday’s ruling a victory for freedom of speech and religious liberty. “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 John Bursch said in a statement. “We are very pleased that the 6th Circuit affirmed the constitutional right of public university professors to speak and lead discussions, even on hotly contested issues.”