A professor in Ohio is suing his employer after being told to refer to a student with the correct pronouns.
Nicholas Meriwether teaches religion and philosophy at Shawnee State University, a public university in Ohio.
He filed suit on Monday claiming that his rights to free speech, freedom of religion, and due process were violated when he was told to refer to a transgender woman in his class with “she” pronouns.
In the complaint, he said he refers to students with “sir,” “ma’am,” “mister,” or “miss.”
After a class in January, a student approached him and told him that she uses “she” pronouns.
Meriwether said he couldn’t do that and debated gender identity with her.
He said that she then “circled him threateningly.”
He said he would refer to her only by her last name, and she filed a complaint with the university.
Shawnee State has a nondiscrimination policy that includes gender identity. Meriwether got an informal warning.
“I am afraid my answer is the same that it has always been: Every student needs to be treated the same in all of your classes,” responded Roberta Milliken, acting dean at the time, when he asked about the school’s policy on pronouns.
The student filed another complaint later when Meriwether addressed her with a “Mister.” He claims it was an accident.
After a Title IX investigation, he got a written warning for violating Shawnee State’s nondiscrimination policy.
In a grievance process, Meriwether said that his religious freedom was violated.
“I am a Christian. As such, it is my sincerely held religious belief, based on the Bible’s teachings, that God created human beings as either male or female, that this gender is fixed in each person from the moment of conception, and that it cannot be changed,” Meriwether wrote.
He did not explain how he knew what gender God had assigned the student better than the student herself.
He offered some alternative solutions, like putting a disclaimer on the syllabus saying that he was using the correct pronouns to address people “under compulsion.”
The school rejected the alternatives as well as his grievance, so he contacted the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and sued.
ADF is a hate group that has been behind many recent lawsuits for religious exemptions, including Masterpiece Cakeshop and Hobby Lobby.
The Supreme Court has already ruled that public employees have no free speech rights when it comes to speech related to performing their jobs jobs in Garcetti v. Ceballos. But ADF argues that the school’s demands went beyond the classroom.
The Supreme Court has also ruled that the government can burden religious conduct if it’s using a generally applicable rule, but ADF is arguing that Shawnee State’s nondiscrimination policy targets Meriwether’s “religious expression and activities specifically.”
Shawnee State University has not commented on the lawsuit.