Federal Court Upholds Free Speech For Faculty

A recent federal court case represents a step in the right direction on free speech for faculty at public universities.

On March 26, 2021, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio was free to refrain from addressing a “transgender” student using that student’s preferred pronoun. According to WORLD, Nicholas Meriwether, a professor of philosophy at the university, was punished in 2016 for “declining to address a male student with feminine titles and pronouns.” Professor Meriwether, a Christian, reportedly “asked if he could refer to the student by last name only or use the preferred pronoun while putting a disclaimer about his beliefs in the course syllabus. Neither option was good enough for university officials.” Instead, the professor was subjected to ridicule and anti-Christian remarks. The court held that the university had violated Professor Meriwether’s rights to free speech and to the free exercise of religion. Writing for the court, Judge Amul Thapar stated that “‘[P]ublic universities do not have a license to act as classroom thought police.’” Professor Meriwether was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms applauds the decision in the Meriwether case. While it is disconcerting that any university would punish a professor for refusing to lie about a student’s sex, it is encouraging that a federal court is pushing back against public universities that impose speech codes upon Christian faculty or students.