A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of the Ohio college professor who refused to obey his school’s instructions to use transgender students’ preferred pronouns.

Philosophy professor Nicholas Meriwether was punished by Shawnee State University in 2016. The school received a complaint that he called a transgender student in his class “sir” instead of the student’s preferred pronoun “miss.” Meriwether clarified that it happened unintentionally as he was uninformed of the student’s chosen pronoun. The lawsuit against him disclosed that he should be expelled since he failed to treat the transgender student like other female classmates. 

The professor filed a lawsuit against the university for infringing his First Amendment rights. He claimed that the school’s requirement to use words that are incompatible with biology infringed on his religious conviction that gender is determined at conception.

At first, the lawsuit was dismissed by a district court, which decided that Shawnee State had not violated his rights. The court determined that giving students’ pronouns and titles per their personal reference is part of a professor’s job description, not a matter of free expression.

The ruling was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit unanimously on Friday, agreeing that Shawnee State University violated professor Nicholas Meriwether’s First Amendment rights with its decision to reprimand him.

“It (Shawnee State) 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.” Judge Amul Thapar, appointed to the bench by President Trump, wrote in his decision

“The First Amendment interests are especially strong here because Meriwether’s speech also relates to his core religious and philosophical beliefs,” the judge said in support of Meriwether’s defense. 

John Bursch, the conservative lawyer who represented Meriwether, argued that nobody should have to compromise their religious values to maintain their job position. 

Insidehighered reported that John K. Wilson, a contributing writer for the Academe blog of the American Association of University Professors, disagreed with the court’s decision. He believes that while it is reasonable that the court protects faculty rights, but “a professor’s religious beliefs should not give them special rights to mistreat students.”

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