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Court to consider whether Ohio university violated professor's First Amendment rights

ADF attorney available to media following hearing at 6th Circuit

Wednesday, Nov 18, 2020

WHO: ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch

WHAT: Available for media interviews after hearing in Meriwether v. The Trustees of Shawnee State University

WHEN:  Following oral arguments, which begin around 9 a.m. EST on Thursday, Nov. 19

WHERE:  To schedule an interview, contact ADF Media Relations Specialist Ellie Wittman at (202) 503-7984

CINCINNATI – Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch will be available for media interviews Thursday following a hearing at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in an ADF lawsuit on behalf of a Shawnee State University professor. The university retaliated against the professor, Dr. Nicholas Meriwether, after he respectfully 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 the student’s preferred first or last name, and university officials initially agreed that was an acceptable compromise, officials then changed course and forced Dr. Meriwether either to speak what he believed to be untrue or to remain silent, all contrary to his own Christian convictions and philosophical beliefs.

“Professors don’t give up their First Amendment freedoms when they enter the teaching profession,” said Bursch. “Public universities have no authority to force people to speak beliefs that they do not hold. Dr. Meriwether is committed to treating all students with respect, but he cannot express all messages or endorse all points of view. When the university tried to force him to do this and then punished him for exercising his constitutionally protected freedoms, it violated the First Amendment. That’s why we’ve asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to reverse the district court and allow Dr. Meriwether to continue pursuing justice.”

In January 2018, during a Socratic dialogue in the political philosophy class Meriwether was teaching, he responded to a male student’s question by saying, “Yes, sir.” After the class, the student approached Meriwether, stated that he was transgender, and demanded that the professor refer to him as a woman, with feminine titles and pronouns. When Meriwether did not instantly agree, the student became belligerent and promised to get Meriwether fired.

The student then filed a complaint with the university, which launched a formal investigation. Meriwether offered to call the student by first or last name, but the student insisted that Meriwether use pronouns and titles consistent with the student’s gender identity. University officials ultimately rejected any compromise that would allow Meriwether to speak according to his conscience and sincerely held religious beliefs. Instead, they formally charged him, saying “he effectively created a hostile environment” for the student. Later, they placed a written warning in his personnel file and threatened “further corrective actions” unless he articulates the university’s ideological message.

Thomas W. Kidd, Jr., one of more than 3,400 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case, Meriwether v. The Trustees of Shawnee State University.

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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