Comply or be Disciplined: Professor Punished for Calling Student “Sir”

Shawnee State University
Alliance Defending Freedom

Gender ideology has taken over much of academia, which shouldn't be news to anyone. All types of public and private schools and universities have bought into the notion that there are more than two sexes. In fact, if you refer to "the two sexes," you're likely to be considered either a Neanderthal or, worse, a bigot who refuses to acknowledge that there exist now an unlimited number of "gender identities." It's bad form to talk about the male or female "sex" anymore, though the term serves as a legal bedrock in many of our laws. Even those laws have been subject to judicial and agency tinkering in the last few years in order to further the new gender ideology.

The problem for Christians and other people who don't buy into the ideology, which denies the biological and objective truth about males and females, is that the culture, and many government entities, won't allow us to disagree with the gender warriors on college campuses and elsewhere. They have determined to force the rest of us to comply, or else.

Professor Nicholas Meriwether of Shawnee State University in Ohio is the latest "or else" target of the radical gender ideology rampaging through public universities. If you haven't heard about his story, Meriwether is a philosophy professor at Shawnee State, which has a non-discrimination policy which says he must comply with whatever pronouns his students demand he use. When a male student who self-identifies as a female objected to being called "sir" by the professor, and demanded to be called by feminine terms, things went downhill quickly for Meriwether. His convictions would not allow him to cooperate with the lie that this male student was somehow a female. In the spirit of finding middle ground, however, he suggested that he use the student's last name only, without any male or female titles or pronouns. This gesture of good faith was rejected by the student and the university, and the university began a formal investigation of Meriwether.

During the university's investigation of Meriwether, one school administrator laughed openly as Meriwether's religious beliefs were explained to him. Ultimately, the university placed a letter of reprimand in Meriwether's personnel file. That letter could mean that Meriwether might be passed over for promotion, and it might affect his future employment prospects. The letter causes significant and permanent injury to his reputation and employment prospects.

Meriwether and his attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom have now sued the university, alleging numerous constitutional and statutory violations of the professor's rights.

The bottom line free speech issue (which flows from Meriwether's religious beliefs) is whether government (including a state-run university) can compel him to speak a government message that is contrary to his beliefs. You may recall that this was the precise issue the U.S. Supreme Court resolved in NIFLA v. Becerra in June 2018 when it struck down a California law that required pro-life pregnancy care centers to promote and advertise, in its own waiting rooms, the availability of free and low-cost abortion provided by the state.

Hopefully, either the university will reconsider its ill-fated punishment of Meriwether, or the courts will undo the damage done to both Meriwether and the cause of free speech.

The lawsuit, Meriwether v Trustees of Shawnee State University, has been filed in federal district court in Ohio.

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