Judge throws out lawsuit against Ohio college for forcing professor to use trans pronouns

Unsplash/Tim Mossholder
Unsplash/Tim Mossholder

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a Christian professor who sued his employer for forcing him use opposite sex pronouns when speaking to transgender-identifying persons.

The lawsuit, filed by Nicholas Meriwether against Shawnee State University, a small public university in southern Ohio, argued that the school had unjustly compelled him to speak things he did not believe.

SSU maintained that using such language was a part of his job description and, as such, the First Amendment does not apply to his contention, a conclusion which U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott, appointed by Bill Clinton, concurred.

“His speech — the manner by which he addressed a transgender student — was not protected under the First Amendment,” Dlott wrote, according to

Meriwether was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian firm that frequently takes on religious liberty and other First Amendment cases.

“I encourage my students to express their political and religious views, and professors should have the same freedom,” Meriwether said in a statement sent out from ADF.

“But the University insisted that I endorse an ideology I do not believe is true. This is simply wrong. True tolerance must be a two-way street. Now the district court suggests that professors have no free speech rights, which should trouble us all. Public universities have no business compelling people to express ideological beliefs that they do not hold. But the court’s decision opens the door for them to shift from being a marketplace of ideas to an assembly line for one type of thought.”

ADF attorney Travis Barham said Monday that they are considering their options in light of the court's dismissal.

“This is wrong,” Barham said in a statement.

“Public universities have no business compelling people to express ideological beliefs that they don’t hold.”

The professor had reportedly received a written warning, which reprimanded him for violating the school's nondiscrimination policy. Meriwether said he treated a male trans-identified student like "other biologically male students.” His appeal of the reprimand through a school grievance process was unsuccessful.

Around the country and throughout the Western world, the issue of language as it pertains to self-declared gender identities is manifesting in employment contexts and in courts of law, and competing rights claims are being adjudicated.

Last year, English teacher Peter Vlaming was ousted from his job at a public school in Virginia after he refused to use pronouns when referring to a trans-identified student. Though he agreed to use the student's new name, Vlaming argued that he could not in good conscience use such language because it violated his religious beliefs.

In the United Kingdom, an employment tribunal judge ruled against Dr. David Mackereth, who was dismissed from his position as a disability benefits assessor in the Department of Work and Pensions, after he said he could not "make an abstract ideological pledge" to use female pronouns when speaking of a bearded man. The tribunal held that Mackereth's beliefs were "incompatible with human dignity."

Rulings in favor of transgender-identified persons are not always against those who argue that their right to religious expression and belief was infringed by such trans-affirmative policies.

Tax researcher Maya Forstater was terminated May from her position at the London office of the Centre for Global Development, a think tank, after she posted criticisms of transgender ideology as it pertained to proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act. As with Mackereth, an employment tribunal judge ruled against her, holding that her approach and stated beliefs — such as "men cannot be women" — were "not worthy of respect in a democratic society."

"I conclude from … the totality of the evidence, that [Forstater] is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment," the judge ruled in December.

In October, the United States Supreme Court heard the case of R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission & Aimee Stephens. It centered around a transgender-identifying male who alleged unlawful discrimination on the basis of gender identity after being fired for refusing to comply with the funeral home's sex-specific dress code. Stephens also demanded to be recognized as female while on the job.

A decision on the case is expected this spring or summer.

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