Meriwether v. The Trustees of Shawnee State University
Description: Shawnee State University officials punished philosophy professor Nicholas Meriwether because he declined a male student’s demand to be referred to as a woman, with feminine titles and pronouns (“Miss,” “she,” etc.). Although the philosophy professor offered to use any name the student requested, the university rejected that compromise, choosing instead to force the professor to speak and act contrary to his own Christian convictions and philosophical beliefs.
Victory: Shawnee State agrees professors can’t be forced to speak contrary to their beliefs
CINCINNATI – Philosophy professor Dr. Nick Meriwether’s three-year quest to vindicate his First Amendment rights has concluded with a settlement in his favor. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled in March 2021 that the university violated Meriwether’s free speech rights when it punished him because he declined a male student’s demand to be referred to as a woman, with feminine titles and pronouns. Meriwether had offered to use any name the student requested instead of titles and pronouns, but the university rejected that compromise, instead forcing the professor to speak contrary to his religious convictions and philosophical beliefs.
As part of the settlement, the university has agreed that Meriwether has the right to choose when to use, or avoid using, titles or pronouns when referring to or addressing students. Significantly, the university agreed Meriwether will never be mandated to use pronouns, including if a student requests pronouns that conflict with his or her biological sex.
“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 Senior Counsel Travis Barham. “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. We’re pleased to see the university recognize that the First Amendment guarantees Dr. Meriwether—and every other American—the right to speak and act in a manner consistent with one’s faith and convictions.”
“Public universities should welcome intellectual and ideological diversity, where all students and professors can engage in meaningful discussions without compromising their core beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Dr. Meriwether rightly defended his freedom to speak and stay silent, and not conform to the university’s demand for uniformity of thought. We commend the university for ultimately agreeing to do the right thing, in keeping with its reason for existence as a marketplace of ideas.”
As part of the settlement in Meriwether v. The Trustees of Shawnee State University, the university agreed to pay $400,000 in damages and Meriwether’s attorneys’ fees. Additionally, considering the 6th Circuit’s ruling, the university is rescinding the written warning it issued Meriwether in June 2018. In light of the settlement, ADF attorneys filed a voluntary dismissal of the case Thursday.
Thomas W. Kidd, Jr., one of more than 4,400 attorneys in ADF's network, is serving as local counsel in the case on behalf of Meriwether.
- Pronunciation guide: Barham (BEAR’-um), Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.
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Travis C. Barham serves as senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, where he plays a key role with the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. He focuses his legal efforts on preserving and reclaiming religious freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of association for students and faculty at universities throughout the country. His work has been instrumental in securing several strategic appellate court victories, including a public university free speech victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2021. Barham earned his Juris Doctor from Washington and Lee University School of Law in 2006, where he graduated summa cum laude. Barham is a member of the bars of Georgia and Arizona. He is also admitted to practice before multiple federal district and appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
Tyson Langhofer serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom and director of its Center for Academic Freedom. Before joining ADF, Langhofer was a partner with Stinson Leonard Street LLP, where he worked as a commercial litigation attorney for 15 years and earned Martindale-Hubbell’s AV Preeminent® rating. Langhofer earned his Juris Doctor from Regent University School of Law, where he graduated cum laude in 1999. He obtained a B.A. in international business with a minor in economics from Wichita State University in 1996. A member of the bar in Virginia, Kansas, and Arizona, Langhofer is also admitted to practice in numerous federal district courts.