OPINION | This article contains commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.

For more material from Christoper Michaels, visit his website.

An Ohio university faces legal action over stifling the free speech of a longtime professor. Should teachers and professors be required to use preferred gender pronouns? The 6th Circuit Court doesn’t think so.

Professor Nicholas Meriwether can resume his lawsuit against his employer, Shawnee State University, of Ohio. The reversal came this week in a ruling from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel slapped down the lower court’s decision.

Circuit Judge Amul Thapar delivered the court’s opinion:

[Law & Crime] “Traditionally, American universities have been beacons of intellectual diversity and academic freedom,” the court also said. “They have prided themselves on being forums where controversial ideas are discussed and debated. And they have tried not to stifle debate by picking sides. But Shawnee State chose a different route: It punished a professor for his speech on a hotly contested issue. And it did so despite the constitutional protections afforded by the First Amendment. The district court dismissed the professor’s free-speech and free-exercise claims. We see things differently and reverse.”

The issue began in 2016 when the university drafted a directive ordering employees to refer to students by their preferred pronouns. Professor Meriwether—who taught courses in the “History of Christian Thought”—is a devout Christian and does not subscribe to gender fluidity theories. A student in 2018 demanded the professor call the student by their preferred pronoun. In a tirade, the student threatened to get Meriwether fired and pursued action against the professor through university channels.

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Meriwether tried to compromise with the school and the student by referring to the student by their last name. As you might expect, the university was hostile towards the professor, prompting him to file a lawsuit against his employer. However, that’s where the story takes a turn.

After a District Court judge dismissed the lawsuit, the appellate court overturned the decision, referencing numerous historical cases as precedent in their ruling. Judge Thapar offered these chilling words:

“One final point worth considering: 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. “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe” such orthodoxy.”

It’s refreshing to see free speech protections upheld. It offers hope that there are still some in power who love our country for the freedoms it was founded on. Regardless of where you stand on gender pronouns, school is a place where diversity of thought should be celebrated and not stifled. Forcing teachers to use preferred pronouns doesn’t seem very open-minded to me. Perhaps, Shawnee State learned a valuable lesson. We can only hope.

As always, this has been the World According to Chris.

 

 

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