Catholic judge compares using proper pronouns for trans people to denying existence of God

Christian Shawnee State University professor Nicholas Meriwether, who refuses to stop misgendering his students

Christian professor Nicholas Meriwether, who was reprimanded for flat-out refusing to stop misgendering his trans student, can sue university on free speech grounds, an appeals court has ruled.

Meriwether, a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio, was disciplined by the college in 2016 when he refused to stop referring to a female trans student as “sir” and “Mr”.

The student, identified as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, was repeatedly misgendered in Meriwether’s classes, with the anti-trans professor refusing to correct himself because he believes that “God created human beings as either male or female, that this sex is fixed in each person from the moment of conception, and that it cannot be changed, regardless of an individual’s feelings or desires”.

According to Shawnee State policy, staff will be disciplined if they “refuse to use a pronoun that reflects a student’s self-asserted gender identity… regardless of the professor’s convictions or views on the subject”.

Despite many discussions with university officials, Meriwether still refused to use “she” and “her” pronouns to refer to Doe, and was given a warning which stated he must change the way he addresses transgender students to “avoid further corrective actions”.

Nicholas Meriwether sued his employer with help from anti-LGBT+ lobbying group Alliance Defending Freedom, claiming that it had infringed upon his freedom of speech and religion by asking him to stop misgendering trans students, but his case was dismissed last year. 

Having taken his case to the sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals, however, judges have now unanimously ruled that he is within his rights to sue Shawnee State University.

The decision, written by the Donald Trump-appointed Catholic judge Amul Thapar, stated: “The First Amendment interests are especially strong here because Nicholas Meriwether’s speech also relates to his core religious and philosophical beliefs.”

Thapar added: “If professors lacked free-speech protections when teaching, a university would wield alarming power to compel ideological conformity.

“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.”

The judge also claimed in the ruling that “pronouns can and do convey a powerful message implicating a sensitive topic of public concern”. Strangely, Thapar was happy to refer to Meriwether with “he” and “him” pronouns throughout the 32-page decision, but did not refer to Doe with any pronouns at all.

The other two judges on the three-judge panel were David McKeague, a Republican who once ruled that a university group that supports victims of racism and homophobia was stifling free speech, and Joan Larsen, another Republican who argued for sodomy to remain illegal in Texas.

Nicholas Meriwether will now be able to proceed with his free speech and religious freedom lawsuit against Shawnee State University.