Fighting Discrimination

Court Says Ohio College Professor Has No Religious Freedom Right To Mis-gender Trans Student

  Rob Boston

An Ohio college professor who said he had a legal right to refuse to call a transgender student by her preferred pronouns has lost in court – again.

The suit was filed by the anti-LGBTQ Christian nationalist legal group Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of Nicholas K. Meriwether, a teacher of religion and philosophy at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth.

The origins of the case go back to January 2018, when a transgender student, identified as “Jane Doe” in court papers, requested that Meriwether use female pronouns when referring to her. Meriwether said he wasn’t sure he could do that. After several instances where Meriwether used the wrong pronouns and referred to Doe using the title “Mr.” in class, the student filed a complaint.

School officials counseled Meriwether to use the proper pronouns, but he refused to back down. He told officials at the college, “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.”

In a preliminary ruling issued in September, Magistrate Judge Karen L. Litkovitz of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio recommended dismissing the case. Last week, U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott agreed.

“The Court concludes that Meriwether failed to state a claim for violation of his rights under the United States Constitution,” Dlott wrote in her ruling. “His speech – the manner by which he addressed a transgender student – was not protected under the First Amendment. Further, he did not plead facts sufficient to state a claim for a violation of his right to free exercise of religion … or for a violation of his rights to due process or equal protection.”

Meriwether has the right to hold whatever views he wants on transgender issues. But in this case, the student has rights, too – chiefly, the right to be treated with dignity and respect and to receive an education free from harassment and mistreatment.

Religious freedom is a vital principle that protects your right to practice a faith, or no faith at all, but it gives you no right to harm others or treat them badly, especially in a public, taxpayer-funded institution. That’s what Meriwether did, and that’s also why he deserved to lose in court.

P.S. In another victory for transgender rights, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week issued an important ruing in a case called Parents for Privacy v. Barr. The court upheld an Oregon public school district’s policy that protects the rights of transgender students to use bathroom and locker-room facilities of their affirmed gender. Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case. You can read the opinion here.


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