A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that an Ohio professor can sue the university he accused of violating his constitutional rights after he was disciplined for refusing to follow school policy and address a transgender student by her preferred gender pronouns.
In a 32-page opinion, a panel from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Nicholas Meriwether, a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University and a devout Christian, does have the right to sue his university.
“Traditionally, American universities have been beacons of intellectual diversity and academic freedom,” the three-judge panel wrote. "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,” the opinion added.
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The Hill has reached out to Shawnee State University for comment.
Meriwether filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in 2018 against university officials after he received a written rebuke for not addressing a transgender student by her preferred pronouns. In the suit, he said he felt that using she/her pronouns with the student would have “forced him to violate his sincerely held Christian beliefs.”
Meriwether also authored an op-ed for The Hill on the subject.
The lawsuit was filed by the conservative Christian law firm Alliance Defending Freedom on Meriwether’s behalf.
The district court ultimately dismissed Meriwether’s lawsuit for lack of standing, according to CNN. Friday’s decision, however, resurrected the lawsuit and sent it back to the lower court, where Meriwether will have the opportunity to argue that his First Amendment rights of freedom and speech and religion, in addition to his 14th Amendment right to due process, were violated, the network noted.