Ohio univ: Gender pronoun usage is not free speech
- Shawnee State University professor Nicholas Meriwether declined to refer to a transgender student as a female, instead choosing to call the student “sir."
- The school disciplined the professor and the student reportedly told Meriwether “then I guess this means I can call you a c**t."
- Shawnee State is requesting that a federal judge dismiss a lawsuit Meriwether subsequently filed.
A public university in Ohio is requesting that a federal judge dismiss a lawsuit filed by a professor who was disciplined for calling a transgender student “sir.”
Shawnee State University argues in a January court filing that addressing students by their requested pronouns is included in Professor Nicholas Meriwether’s job description, and is not considered speech protected by the First Amendment, according to the Ironton Tribune.
The philosophy professor declined to refer to a transgender student as a female, instead choosing to call the student “sir,” according to a lawsuit filed by the Christian conservative nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in federal court.
Meriwether’s lawsuit states that the professor "has always used the titles and pronouns that refer to a student's biological gender,” adding that he "has never knowingly used feminine titles and pronouns to refer to men or masculine titles and pronouns to refer to women."
The lawsuit claims that during a class in January 2018, a student “demanded” the professor properly use the correct gender pronoun in any conversation in which the student identified as a female. When the professor refused to refer to the student as a female, the student told the professor, “then I guess this means I can call you a c**t,” according to the court filing.
As for disciplinary matters, Shawnee State issued a “written warning” to Meriwether in June, and placed it on his personnel file. The acting dean of the College of Arts and Sciences additionally told the professor to refer to transgender students by the pronoun they prefer “to avoid further corrective actions.”
“Tolerance is a two-way street,” ADF Senior Counsel Travis Barham said in a press release. “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.”
Provost Jeffrey Bauer, however, argued that Meriwether did not have the freedom to address the transgender student as “sir.”
“Do these freedoms supersede the rights of an individual, a student in this case, against discrimination by a public employee at a state-supported institution?" Provost Jeffrey Bauer wrote in his denial, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. "When provided with options to avoid discrimination and opposition to his religious beliefs, Dr. Meriwether chose to continue his disparate treatment of the student.”
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