PORTSMOUTH, Ohio — An Ohio professor who was placed under investigation for declining to address a male student who identifies as female with feminine pronouns has filed suit, stating that he should not be forced to violate his Christian convictions.
Dr. Nicholas Meriwether, a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University, says that for many years, he has referred to his students as “mister” or “miss” or “sir” or “ma’am” as a way of teaching his students how to be respectful to each other, especially in environments where there is sharp disagreement over a controversial subject matter.
In January, during his political philosophy class, he responded to a male student’s question with a “Yes, sir,” but was approached by the student after class, who advised that he identifies as female and would prefer to be referred to with feminine pronouns.
According to the legal challenge, Meriwether thought for a moment and then told the student that he was not sure if he could comply with the request. The student consequently became angry and spouted a vulgarity in close proximity to Meriwether’s face. He allegedly threatened to have the professor fired if he did not refer to him as a woman.
Meriwether reported the incident to university officials, and was instructed by Roberta Milliken, the dean of the university’s college of arts and sciences, to refer to students by their last name only, eliminating any use of pronouns. Meriwether wasn’t sold on the idea, as he thought it felt more like something a football coach would do, as opposed to a philosophy professor.
However, he told Milliken that he would do so in regard to the particular student, while using pronouns for everyone else.
Days later, Milliken approached Meriwether to advise that the student was unhappy with only being called by his last name and had threatened to file a Title IX complaint. Milliken, who originally agreed with Meriwether’s arrangement, told Meriwether that he must refer to the student by his preferred pronoun or he would be in violation of the university’s non-discrimination policy.
Meriwether replied that he would be willing to refer to the student by his desired name, but would not use any titles in front of it, such as “mister” or “miss.” The student went on to complete the class and was given a high grade.
However, in the meantime, Milliken launched an investigation against Meriwether due to the receipt of another complaint from the student. Meriwether outlined in writing that he could not refer to a man as a woman “due to [his] conscience, ethical or religious convictions, or [his] views on free speech.”
He realized that he was faced with two choices: either stop using pronouns for all students and simply refer to them by their first name, or violate his religious beliefs by accommodating the student’s gender identity.
Milliken filed a formal charge against Meriwether, stating that he had created a “hostile environment” because of “the way he addressed” the student. A letter of warning was also placed in Meriwether’s file, and meetings with university leadership to explain his religious convictions were not fruitful.
Therefore, Meriwether has now filed suit against Shawnee State University for not granting him a religious accommodation.
“By punishing and threatening to punish Dr. Meriwether for refusing to communicate a university-mandated ideological message regarding gender identity, defendants have attempted and are attempting to compel Dr. Meriwether’s speech, in violation of his rights under the First Amendment,” the lawsuit reads.
“Defendants’ non-discrimination policies and their enforcement of those policies compel Dr. Meriwether to communicate messages about gender identity that he does not hold, that he does not wish to communicate, and that conflict with (and for him to violate) his religious beliefs,” it states.
Meriwether is seeking an injunction against the enforcement of the university’s non-discrimination policy should he refer to a student by their biological sex.
According to Sputnik News, university spokesperson Elizabeth Blevins remarked, “We support the freedom of expression by students, faculty, staff, and visitors on our campus—and provide an educational and work environment that is free from discrimination, retaliation, and harassment.”