Shawnee State University in Ohio has agreed to pay $400,000 in damages to a professor who sued the school for forcing him to use a transgender student’s preferred pronouns in 2018.
Philosophy professor Nicholas Meriwether, who has taught at Shawnee for 25 years, sued the school for violating his right to free speech.
The student, who was born a male but identifies as a female, asked professor Meriwether to address her as a woman and with female pronouns. Court reports state that the professor pushed back, saying the student’s demands went against his beliefs as a Christian.
“I believe that God created men and women, male and female. But the university has no place in telling professors how they are to think with the students,” Meriwether told America Reports.
After the student filed a complaint against the professor with Dean Roberta Millikan, the school forbade him from addressing gender issues in discussions or using gender pronouns in class. In response to the warning, Meriwether filed a lawsuit against Shawnee State alleging that the school had violated his First Amendment rights.
The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit has unanimously ruled that the school failed to uphold Meriwether’s right to free speech and free exercise of religion.
“The First Amendment interests are especially strong here because Meriwether’s speech also relates to his core religious and philosophical beliefs,” Judge Jamal Thapar wrote.
According to the settlement, Meriwether has the right to choose when to use, or avoid using, titles or pronouns when addressing students and the university cannot mandate he use students’ preferred pronouns.
“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,” Meriwether’s attorney said in a news release.
“We are hopeful it sends a message to all universities and professors that you know, we shouldn’t be compelling professors to say things they don’t believe.”