In a rebuke to the “woke” ideology permeating academia, a federal appeals court ruled a university violated the First Amendment when it punished a professor who declined to call a man “miss.”
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit by philosphy professor Nicholas Meriwether against Shawnee State University in Ohio.
“The university punished Meriwether because he declined a male student’s demand to be referred to as a woman, with feminine titles and pronouns,” explained the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the professor.
The court ruled that, based on the allegations in the complaint, the university violated Meriwether’s First Amendment rights.
“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 ADF’s John Bursch. “We are very pleased that the 6th Circuit affirmed the constitutional right of public university professors to speak and lead discussions, even on hotly contested issues. The freedoms of speech and religion must be vigorously protected if universities are to remain places where ideas can be debated and learning can take place.”
The court said: “Traditionally, American universities have been beacons of intellectual diversity and academic freedom. They have prided themselves on being forums where controversial ideas are discussed and debated. And they have tried not to stifle debate by picking sides. But Shawnee State chose a different route: It punished a professor for his speech on a hotly contested issue. And it did so despite the constitutional protections afforded by the First Amendment. The district court dismissed the professor’s free-speech and free-exercise claims. We see things differently and reverse.”
It was during a January 2018 political philosophy class that Meriwether responded to a male student’s question with, “Yes, sir.”
The student then ordered the professor to address him as a woman, and “when Meriwether did not instantly agree, the student became belligerent and promised to get Meriwether fired,” ADF said.
A complaint was filed with the university, which investigated. Despite Meriwether’s offer of various accommodations, the student refused and the university charged Meriwether with creating a “hostile” environment.
The court ruling this week affirmed that if “professors lacked free-speech protections when teaching, a university would wield alarming power to compel ideological conformity. A university president could require a pacifist to declare that war is just, a civil rights icon to condemn the Freedom Riders, a believer to deny the existence of God, or a Soviet émigré to address his students as ‘comrades.’ That cannot be.”
Defendants in the case are the university and trustees Francesca Hartop, Joseph Watson, Scott Williams, David Furbee, Sondra Hash, Robert Howarth, George White, Wallace Edwards, Brett Rappold and Leen Heresh, as well as President Jeff Bauer, acting Dean of Arts Roberta Milliken, English department chairwoman Jennifer Pauley and Title IX Coordinator Tena Pierce.
The university defines “gender identity” as a person’s perceived gender, regardless of biological sex. Students, therefore, can choose the pronoun they want people to use, such as “ze, sie, sie, hir, hirs, zie, xe, xem, xyr, xyrs, per, ve, ver, vis, fae, faer, ae, aer, e, ey, em, eir, eirs, tey, ter and tem.”
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