Friday, April 2, 2021
Sixth Circuit Allows Professor's First Amendment Suit to Proceed, Challenging Discipline for Refusal to use Transgender Student's Preferred Pronouns
The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated a First Amendment lawsuit by a public college professor in Ohio who violated school policy by refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred pronouns.
The 6th Circuit ruled for Shawnee State University philosophy professor Nicholas Meriwether in a March 26 opinion by Judge Amul Thapar, an appeals court appointee of President Donald Trump. Thapar was viewed as a potential U.S. Supreme Court nominee during Trump’s presidency.
Meriwether, a devout Christian, believed God created humans as male or female, and said using preferred pronouns to refer to a student in his class violated his religious beliefs.
The student had protested after Meriwether referred to her as “sir.” University policy required professors to use students’ preferred pronouns, and Meriwether received a written warning.
Meriwether proposed a compromise where he would refer to the student only by her last name. At first it was accepted, but was later rejected. The university said Meriwether should either stop using all sex-based pronounds in his classroom, or he should refer to the transgender student as a female.
Meriwether sued for free speech and free exercise violations under the First Amendment, and due process and equal protection violations of the 14th Amendment. A federal judge tossed the claims, but the 6th Circuit reversed as to the First Amendment claims.