Professor Wins Appeal in Defense of Right to Free Speech in Public University Classrooms

by | Mar 29, 2021 | Free Speech | 2 comments

Independence Law Center filed a brief in support of First Amendment freedoms. 

In a win for free speech, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned a lower court ruling in order to protect a professor that had been punished for using a student’s first and last name rather than using opposite-sex pronouns, due to the professor’s beliefs about gender.  

“This ruling correctly identifies the constitutionally protected right to freely express your beliefs — and the freedom not to say something you disagree with — without fear of losing your job,” says Randall Wenger, Chief Counsel for the Independence Law Center. “As the Court said, ‘Our universities traditionally have been beacons of intellectual diversity and academic freedom,’ and rightly so. This ruling simply affirms that tradition.”

Dr. Nicolas Meriwether, a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University, was punished by the university because he declined a male student’s demand to be referred to as a woman, with feminine titles and feminine pronouns.  Dr. Meriwether offered to use the student’s first or last name, but the public university in Ohio and the student demanded the professor speak and act contrary to his philosophical and religious convictions. The university formally charged him with creating a hostile work environment, placed a written warning in his personnel file and threatened “further corrective actions” unless he articulated the university’s ideological message. Alliance Defending Freedom represented Dr. Meriwether.

The Independence Law Center represented amici curiae parties, numerous academics in philosophy, theology, law, political science, and medicine, by filing an amici brief on their behalf supporting Dr. Meriwether.  The brief explains some of the problems with applying gender identity in this context and argues that professors have the right to free speech on issues of public importance such as the nature of sex. Public universities shouldn’t force teachers to endorse a belief with which they disagree.

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Independence Law Center is a non-profit civil rights law firm specializing in First Amendment issues.