A Christian professor has been awarded $400,000 after his university punished him for refusing to refer to a man using female pronouns.
Professor Nicholas Meriwether, a philosophy lecturer at Shawnee State University in Ohio, launched legal action after the university demanded he refer to a male student, who claimed to be a woman, as female.
In March 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled that Meriwether’s freedom of speech had been violated. The university has now agreed to pay $400,000 in damages and legal fees, and will not require him to use pronouns in the future.
Professor Meriwether explained: “The student approached me after class and said that he wanted to be referred to as a female, and I tried to find an accommodation with the student”.
He said but “then the administration changed course and demanded that I defer to the ideology, that I refer to the student as a female and I simply could not do that”.
The university formally charged him, saying he had created “a hostile environment” for the student, and threatened “further corrective actions” if he did not refer to students using pronouns that reflected their self-declared ‘gender’.
But in the court’s decision last year, Judge Amul Thapar stated: “If professors lacked free-speech protections when teaching, a university would wield alarming power to compel ideological conformity.”
The judge continued: “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.”
Professor Meriwether was supported by religious liberty group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
ADF Senior Counsel Travis Barham commented: “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.”
He added: “Dr Meriwether went out of his way to accommodate his students and treat them all with dignity and respect, yet his university punished him because he wouldn’t endorse an ideology that he believes is false.”
Last year, an academic at the centre of a bullying campaign over her belief in the reality of biological sex resigned from her position at Sussex University.
Professor Kathleen Stock OBE faced online harassment including death threats for expressing her belief that men cannot become women. Activists targeted her workplace, erecting banners calling on the university to “fire Kathleen Stock”.
The University stood by the philosophy professor, backing her right to academic freedom, and Stock thanked officials for their support as she resigned, saying it had been “an absolutely horrible time for me and my family”, but that she hopes to move on “to brighter things”.