An Ohio university may have violated the free speech and religious freedom rights of a Christian philosophy professor.
Shawnee State University demanded that Prof Nicholas Meriwether must refer to a biological male by female pronouns.
The student who is referred to as John Doe filed a complaint with the university. Meriwether met with Roberta Milliken, the acting dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Meriwether offered a compromise. He would use pronouns for the other students but he would call Doe by his last name. A year later Doe filed another complaint against him and once again he was spoken to.
Meriwether is a Christian who believes that people are the sex they were born with and not one they choose for themselves.
Milliken then revoked the earlier compromise and told Meriwether he must use feminine pronouns.
After the third complaint from Doe, the university insisted that Meriwether use the feminine pronouns, so he sued the university for violating his right to free speech and for violating his religious rights.
A District Court ruled in Shawnee State’s favor but the case was appealed to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals who overturned the ruling.
The ruling said that the university did violate his free speech rights and probably his religious rights as well.
The case will now be heard. Meriwether has taught at the university for 25 years and this was the first black mark against his record. This is actually a very important case.
Do the rights of transgenders outrank the rights of the professors and can the university force a professor to either go against their deeply held religious beliefs in order to keep their job?
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The Sixth Circuit panel ruled that there is sufficient evidence that the university violated Meriwether’s free speech and religious freedom claims in order for the lawsuit to move forward. The university aimed to silence the professor on a matter of public concern in violation of the First Amendment.
The Sixth Circuit also ruled that the university likely discriminated against Meriwether due to his faith, depriving his First Amendment right to a process free from religious discrimination. The fact that the university altered its reasoning from “hostile environment” to “differential treatment” severely undercut the case, the judge ruled.
The Sixth Circuit cited two key Supreme Court precedents in its ruling, the free speech case Janus v. AFSCME (2018) and the religious freedom case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018).