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Politics & Policy

Professor Sues after University Requires He Use Student’s Preferred Pronoun

Classroom on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C., September 20, 2018. (Jonathan Drake/REUTERS)

The Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit Monday on behalf of a university professor who was punished by his employer for refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred pronoun.

Nicolas Meriwether, a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University, referred to transgender female student as “sir during his political philosophy class in January 2017, prompting the student to confront him after class and demand the use of female pronouns.

Meriwether resisted the student’s demands, causing the student to get “in his face in a threatening fashion” and call him a “c*** before filing a formal complaint with the university.

After conducting a formal investigation into the incident, the university rejected Meriwether’s offer to refer to the student solely by name and accused Meriwether of “creat[ing] a hostile environment.” Administrators then placed a warning in Meriwether’s personnel file and threatened “further corrective actions” unless he capitulated to the student’s demands.

University provost Jeffrey Bauer “openly laughed” at Meriwether’s claim that his religion precluded him from using the student’s preferred pronouns during a meeting held after the professor filed a complaint with his union, according to the suit.

Jennifer Pauley, chairman of the university’s humanities department, also mocked Meriwether’s religious convictions during a subsequent meeting in which she said Christian beliefs were “primarily motivated out of fear,” and argued that “faculty members who adhere to a certain religion should be banned from teaching courses regarding that religion.”

“Tolerance is a two-way street,” ADF senior counsel Travis Barham said in a Monday press release. “Universities are meant to be a marketplace of ideas, not an assembly line for one type of thought, but apparently, Shawnee State has ignored that foundational truth. The university refused to consider any solutions that would respect the freedoms of everyone involved. It instead chose to impose its own orthodoxy on Dr. Meriwether under threat of further punishment if he doesn’t relinquish his rights protected by the First Amendment.”

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Ohio, demands that the university amend its “vague and overbroad” non-discrimination policy and remove the disciplinary warning from Meriwether’s personnel file.

The use of transgender students’ preferred pronouns emerged as a political flashpoint in Canada when Jordan Peterson, a then little-known psychology professor at the University f Toronto, criticized Canada’s bill C-16.

Peterson, who has since catapulted to international fame, argued that the bill, which added gender identity to a list of protected classes under the Canada Human Rights Act, could be used to charge with discrimination Canadians who refused to use the preferred pronoun of their transgender students or colleagues.

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