Watch: Appeals Court Rules for University Prof Who Wouldn't Use Student's Requested Pronouns

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday April 2, 2021

An appeals court found favor in a university professor in Ohio, clearing the way for the professor to file suit against the university after he was told to honor a student's requested pronouns, UK newspaper Daily Mail reports.

Shawnee State University implemented a policy in 2016 requiring staff and faculty to address students according to their requested pronouns, a rule that Nicholas Meriwether, a professor of philosophy, felt violated his Christian faith.

The professor found himself in violation of the policy "after a transgender student complained that he used 'Mr' instead of 'Ms' when responding to her in class... despite her wish to be addressed as a woman," the Daily Mail reported.

"The academic, who said the rules did not reflect 'biological reality' and contradicted his devout Christian beliefs, was given a written warning about his conduct," the article said.

"A district court previously dismissed Meriwether's lawsuit for lack of standing," CNN reports. Last "Friday's decision by a three-judge panel from the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals revives the lawsuit and sends it back to a lower court."

The panel consisted of two Trump-appointed judges and one judge appointed by the George H.W., Bush.

The opinion, authored by Judge Amul Thapar, cited "intellectual diversity and academic freedom," and said that universities in America had "tried not to stifle debate by picking sides."

Wrote Thapar: "The district court dismissed the professor's free-speech and free-exercise claims. We see things differently and reverse."

CNN recounted that the initial problem arose in 2018, and that "a series of compromises were discussed between the administration and Meriwether, but the student kept filing more complaints over the semester."

Eventually, the school initiated a "Title IX investigation" into the matter that "concluded that Meriwether's treatment of the student created a "hostile environment," CNN reported.

The Christian legal group representing Meriwether, Alliance Defending Freedom, issued a statement hailing the decision.

"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," said John Bursch, senior council for the group, in the statement.

Alliance Defending Freedom has been classified as a hate group by watchdog organization Southern Poverty Law Center since 2016.

"ADF has played a role in the passage of religious exemption laws that lead to discrimination against LGBTQ+ people," the SPLC says in an entry about the group, noting that ADF has sought to criminalize same-gender romantic contact between consenting adults and "supported laws that required the forced sterilization of transgender Europeans."

Meriwether appeared on a Fox News segment with Tucker Carlson, where he was introduced as someone who had been "bullied by lunatics."

On the segment, which discussed non-traditional pronouns, Meriwether opined, "I do think that we are losing our academic freedom, we are losing our freedom to disagree, and unless and until people stand up to it, I think it's just going to get worse, much faster."

Daily Mail wrote "Meriwether argued in his complaint that 'the number of potential gender identities is infinite' and that there are 'over one hundred different options currently available.' "

Watch the Fox News clip below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.