Ohio Professor Wins Major Free Speech Decision on Compelled Use of Pronouns in Classrooms

My column yesterday discussed the increasing trend to treat the failure to use a person’s preferred pronouns (called “misgendering”) a type of hate speech or discriminatory conduct. A new case highlights the free speech problems associated with the trend. In Meriwether v. Hartop, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit handed down a major ruling in favor of Shawnee State University Professor Nicholas Meriwether, who was disciplined for refusing to use a student’s designated pronoun choices.

At the beginning of the school year, Shawnee State emailed all faculty members to order them to refer to students by their “preferred pronoun[s].” Meriwether teaches religion and philosophy and refers to all his students using “sir,” “ma’am,” “mister” or “miss.”  When Meriwether asked university officials for more details, the school confirmed that professors would be disciplined if they “refused to use a pronoun that reflects a student’s self-asserted gender identity” and the school would not recognize any ideological or religious exception.

The policy was stated as mandatory “regardless of the professor’s convictions or views on the subject.” He was further informed that such punishment would be meted out under the school’s anti-discrimination rules “because of . . . gender identity.”

The issue came to a head with an encounter described by the Court:

“In that first class, one of the students Meriwether called on was Doe. According to Meriwether, “no one . . . would have assumed that [Doe] was female” based on Doe’s outward appearances. Id. at 1474. Thus, Meriwether responded to a question from Doe by saying, “Yes, sir.” Id. This was Meriwether’s first time meeting Doe, and the university had not provided Meriwether with any information about Doe’s sex or gender identity. After class, Doe approached Meriwether and “demanded” that Meriwether “refer to [Doe] as a woman” and use “feminine titles and pronouns.” Id. at1475. This was the first time that Meriwether learned that Doe identified as a woman. So Meriwether paused before responding because his sincerely held religious beliefs prevented him from communicating messages about gender identity that he believes are false. He explained that he wasn’t sure if he could comply with Doe’s demands. Doe became hostile—circling around Meriwether at first, and then approaching him in a threatening manner: ‘I guess this means I can call you a cu–.’ Id. Doe promised that Meriwether would be fired if he did not give in to Doe’s demands.”

What is interesting is that after Doe complained, the Dean of Students and his department chair, Jennifer Pauley, came to Meriwether’s office and said that he had to use the chosen pronoun for the student. Meriwether explained that he had a religious objection but suggested a common resolution that he would use the last name of this particular student rather than use a pronoun. However, he would continue to use pronouns for other students. As I discussed in the column, many faculty members are now abandoning the use of pronouns to avoid such complaints.

Pauley reportedly agreed to the compromise but the student later said that it was unacceptable and Pauley returned to tell Meriwether that he was in violation of the school anti-discrimination rules.

“Trying to find common ground, Meriwether asked whether the university’s policy would allow him to use students’ preferred pronouns but place a disclaimer in his syllabus “noting that he was doing so under compulsion and setting forth his personal and religious beliefs about gender identity.” R. 34, Pg. ID 1478. Dean Milliken rejected this option out of hand. She insisted that putting a disclaimer in the syllabus would itself violate the university’s gender identity policy.”

Meriwether was then investigated and found guilty of discrimination based on gender identity, defined as a “person’s innermost concept of self as male or female or both or neither.”  A warning letter was placed in his file and he sued out of fear that he would be fired given his continued objections to the policy.

He lost before the lower court. District Court Judge Susan Dlott issued a chilling decision that entirely dismissed free speech rights for faculty members in such classroom exchanges. She wrote in her opinion:

“The speech here occurred in the context of plaintiff’s employment; it was limited to titles and pronouns used to address one student in plaintiff’s class: the speech was directed to plaintiff and heard only by her and her fellow students; and absent any further explanation or elaboration, the speech cannot reasonably be construed as having conveyed any beliefs or stated any facts about gender identity.”

Many disagree that this is protected speech, but I cannot understand how Judge Dlott could say that such compelled use of pronouns “cannot reasonably be construed as having conveyed any beliefs or stated any facts about gender identity.”

The Sixth Circuit noted that, as stated in Speech First, Inc. v. Schlissel, 939 F.3d 756, 761 (6th Cir. 2019), “Universities have historically been fierce guardians of intellectual debate and free speech.”  It reversed a district court’s ruling by Judge Dlott that a professor’s speech in the classroom is not protected by the First Amendment. Accordingly, it held that “Meriwether has plausibly alleged that Shawnee State violated his First Amendment rights by compelling his speech or silence and casting a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom, his free-speech claim may proceed.”

Adopting a position similar to the Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Circuits, the appellate panel ruled:

“[O]ur court has rejected as “totally unpersuasive” “the argument that teachers have no First Amendment rights when teaching, or that the government can censor teacher speech without restriction.” Hardy v. Jefferson Cmty. Coll., 260 F.3d 671, 680 (6th Cir. 2001). And we have recognized that “a professor’s rights to academic freedom and freedom of expression are paramount in the academic setting.” Bonnell v. Lorenzo, 241 F.3d 800, 823 (6th Cir. 2001); see Dambrot v. Cent. Mich. Univ., 55 F.3d 1177, 1188–89 (6th Cir. 1995).1 Simply put, professors at public universities retain First Amendment protections at least when engaged in core academic functions, such as teaching and scholarship. See Hardy, 260 F.3d at 680.”

The ruling is a major recognition and defense of free speech rights for faculty in classrooms. It is not clear if the school will now appeal but I expect that there are at least four justices who would be particularly interested in granting certiorari to amplify rather than reverse the reasoning of the Sixth Circuit.

Here is the decision: Shawnee State Gender Pronoun Lawsuit


142 thoughts on “Ohio Professor Wins Major Free Speech Decision on Compelled Use of Pronouns in Classrooms”

  1. FBI Insurrection Unraveling–beginning to look like another Whitmer ‘Kidnapping’ ruse.


    “Wherever Rhodes went, indictments of everyone but him were sure to follow. He used the pretext of providing security to insinuate himself into some high-echelon events that the FBI wanted to get close to.”

    “As it did in laying out the details of the FBI involvement in the Governor Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plot, the news site detailed the government connections with the Capitol Building protest and riot.

    At a time when Americans have discovered that the FBI lied about the Trump-Russia hoax and tried to seed the story in all layers of political Washington, it would come to no one’s surprise to learn that the FBI’s fingerprints were all over plans for their self-styled “insurrection.”

    Would it?”

    1. Maybe any day know day now Prof Turley comes out here, explains to everyone, Oops, my bad on this, that & the other.

      I would have thought for sure he would have investigated the hell out of this Gene Therapy crap he’s be promoting.

      Very disappointing at best.

  2. Liberal comedian Bill Maher has been on a tear of the Woke in university living

    …. it was 67 years ago in 1954 when the supreme court handed down their landmark brown versus board of education ruling which said separate but equal isn’t what we do here. We decided we’re going to try to make this work together. And yet a recent survey of 173 colleges found that 42 percent offer segregated residences, 46 offers segregated orientation programs, 72 percent host segregated graduation ceremonies. Well congratulations liberal parents, you just paid 100 grand for your kid to move to biloxi mississippi in 1948.

  3. OT

    Meanwhile, the Obama Coup D’etat in America continues.

    Special Counsel John “Dudley Do-Right” Durham must obtain the Italian affidavit, referenced in the video at the link below, which reveals the person who uploaded the software instructions, to “flip” votes from Trump to Biden, to a satellite, down to German servers and ultimately to America.


    1. Was that freedom of speech or orders to jump through hoops?

      Freedom does not mean freedom; have I got that right?

  4. This is a statement by Shawnee State. “When an opponent declares, “I will not come over to your side,” I calmly say, “Your child belongs to us already… What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community.” They are beginning this indoctrination now in kindergarten. The original of the quote was not from Shawnee state but from the German leader in 1933. Shawnee State is just carrying out the task proscribed by this great leader.

  5. The fact the courts have to deal with such utter nonsense is proof we are no longer a serious nation. But you knew that once Obama couldn’t figure out which bathroom to use, you didn’t earn what you own, you can keep your doctor if you like, illegals are future brain surgeons and not destroying schools and American values, climates scams, pandemics scam, depopulation is not genocide, kids don’t need a father, teaching LBGTQ life style in grade K, and wasting time because teachers are now clueless with CRT, 1619 project, hate speech, everybody gets a trophy, rewards based on needs, porn is sex ed, governments care about you, celebratards are smart (most barely finished high school), defund yet militarized the police, indemnity for drug companies, socialized medicine, and the assault on boys and men. Good luck with the inversion and lunacy commies and fascists. I wonder how females feel now that they have to register for the draft on equal terms with men if the $3.5 trillion spending bill gets through and they have useless degrees and a mountain of debt that forever makes them unlikely to ever get married, except to the government. You have come a long way baby.

    1. I’m afraid that we may need to betaken over by the Taliban so that we can flush all this BS out of the system.

      P.S. any moderator reading this – Why don’t I get notified of any relies to my comments even though I check the box “Notify me of new comments via email.”?

  6. The professor cited deeply held religious beliefs as the reason why she couldn’t use the preferred pronouns of the student. That reasoning is often cited, but rarely challenged and it should. There has been ample reason to challenge the sincerity of such beliefs. For example many people have been using the “deeply held religious beliefs” claim to avoid vaccine mandates despite their own religion not opposing them. Her argument opposing the student’s request to addressed by the pronoun on the gender they identify is pretty weak of she is relying on religious beliefs as a reason.

    Her solution to call the student by only the last name and only the student was deliberately an attempt to stand the student apart from the rest. Her tactics are meant to insult rather than be accommodating. This professor needs to have a Frank discussion about her problems with this student’s request with her other students.

    1. Svelaz, there are beliefs by other groups than religious groups that the people of these groups stand on. As an example, 72% of Blacks between the ages of 14 and 44 have not been vaccinated. These people believe because of past experience that the vaccine could be harmful to them. Where do you stand on their right to stand on their beliefs? Please tell us that your particular slant on things is not just using pick and choose to further your argument.

      1. Thinkitthrough,

        That’s true, but that’s besides the point. Those using the “sincere religious belief” excuse are not really being sincere. They don’t have a legitimate excuse given the fact that their own religious leaders are saying vaccine mandates don’t go against scriptures.

        The professor is only using his religious beliefs “excuse” to shield his bigotry.

        If the argument is that the professor should be able to call the student by whatever pronoun SHE chooses she shouldn’t expect to be addressed by what SHE expects to be addressed either.

        What is sad is that this is nothing more than simple use of a word the student wishes to be addressed as. The student had a point when she said that the could call the professor a c?nt if she chose to. It would be offensive and insulting obviously, but so is being deliberately called by the pronoun not chosen by the student because of her gender identity. It’s disruptive and stupid to claim religious belief as an excuse.

        1. Sleestack ; right on que it’s “bigot bigot bigot” from your crowd. You did not read how the “student” demanded and made threats and started this whole ball of shinola rolling ?. But you just come on right in like batman with a cape crowing rayciss/bigot etc etc. Just another one trick pony phoney.

    2. The deeply held religious belief is that a “self-asserted gender identity” is a reality, not a loud cry for psychological intervention.

  7. It must be understood comrade that you will speak as we say you will speak. If you don’t comply your means of making a living will be taken from you. If you continue you will be placed in confinement so you can’t corrupt the thinking of others (cancelled). No one will miss you. When the prisons become overcrowded room will be made for the new arrivals. If you think this is overblown you are bereft of a knowledge of history and amazingly naive. You see, where the depravity of man raises it’s ugly head freedom of speech must be the first casualty in the quest for power. Let me provide an example to lend proof to my premise. https://nybooks.com/daily/2021/09/12/the-world-of-tadeusz-borowskis-auschwitz/.

    1. Thinkitthrough,

      “ If you think this is overblown you are bereft of a knowledge of history and amazingly naive.”

      It is overblown. It is also quite silly. But if you’re citing history then you should be aware that it was the religious who had “since religious beliefs” that forced into others their beliefs to the point of punishment by death or imprisonments.

  8. The Cleveland mkb team is dropping the name Indians. They are chastised for it being racist. They are adopting the name Guardians.
    They will get chastised for that one. Inmates in prison will contest that name. They don’t like their guards.

  9. OT

    The case against the co-conspirators in the Obama Coup D’etat in America expands and strengthens.

    Court documents presented by PJ Media show that George Soros and John McCain were parties to the coup.



    “We will stop him.”

    – Peter Strzok to FBI paramour Lisa Page

    “[Obama] wants to know everything we’re doing.”

    – Lisa Page to FBI paramour Peter Strzok

    The Obama Coup D’etat in America is the most egregious abuse of power and the most prodigious crime in American political history.

    The co-conspirators are:

    Kevin Clinesmith, Bill Taylor, Eric Ciaramella, Rosenstein, Mueller/Team, Andrew Weissmann,

    James Comey, Christopher Wray, McCabe, Strozk, Page, Laycock, Kadzic,

    Sally Yates, James Baker, Bruce Ohr, Nellie Ohr, Priestap, Kortan, Campbell,

    Sir Richard Dearlove, Christopher Steele, Simpson, Joseph Mifsud,

    Alexander Downer, Stefan “The Walrus” Halper, Azra Turk, Kerry, Hillary,

    Huma, Mills, Brennan, Gina Haspel, Clapper, Lerner, Farkas, Power, Lynch,

    Rice, Jarrett, Holder, Brazile, Sessions (patsy), Nadler, Schiff, Pelosi, Obama,

    Joe Biden, James E. Boasberg, Emmet Sullivan, Gen. Milley, George Soros, John McCain et al.

      1. “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America”

        – Barack “Barry Soetoro” Obama

  10. “It’s the [“manifest tenor”], stupid!”

    – James Carville

    The Ohio Department of Higher Education is public, not private, must support the rights, freedoms, privileges and immunities provided to individuals by the U.S. Constitution, including the freedom of speech and thought, and must be prosecuted for the egregious act of denying them to Professor Nicholas Meriwether.

    “…courts…must…declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void.”

    “…men…do…what their powers do not authorize, [and] what they forbid.”

    “[A] limited Constitution … can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing … To deny this would be to affirm … that men acting by virtue of powers may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.”

    – Alexander Hamilton

  11. Am anxiously awaiting the day in the not too distant future when these coddled students have to fend for themselves in a real-world work environment. Right now the Universities are giving in to the demands of the student/consumer paying for an education. Imagine their horror when, in their careers providing something to a consumer that they won’t be able to force their demands on their consumers and the entities that employ them will side with the consumer against them (first rule of business-Customer is always right). Once they begin facing termination for refusing to comply I expect these former students will begin suing the universities that had allowed their self-delusions to rule the day. No doubt these students will claim (irony of ironies) that the Universities had failed to prepare them to function in the real-world workplace (instead of their fantasy world). Let the lawsuits begin.

    1. Am anxiously awaiting the day in the not too distant future when these coddled students have to fend for themselves in a real-world work environment.

      Where they will immediately be absorbed into the HR environment total ran by exactly the same graduates of the same college only 40to 10 years ago. Where the CEO and President of the Board answer to the head of HR specifically, and the HR dept in general. where feelings reign supreme.

  12. Jonathan: The Sixth Circuit has spoken. A university religion professor has the right to call a student either “sir”, “ma’am”, “mister” or “Miss”. These pronouns seem antiquated (especially the latter term) in an era where a student’s self-asserted gender identity rights are now recognized by most institutions. Professor Meriwether, based on his religious beliefs, refused to refer to the complaining student as a “woman”. Why? Because the professor believes his religious training teaches him that self-identified gender identity is “false”. Fine. The professor has a right to his religious beliefs but does he have the right to impose them on his students? During four years of undergraduate school and 3 years of graduate work all my professors used the last names of students. That was, of course, when gender identity was not an issue. But Meriwether didn’t offer that. He said he would he would use his preferred pronouns for all students–except the complaining student where he would use her last name. No doubt an attempt to isolate the student and bring unwarranted attention and embarrassment. Of course, Meriwether could have done the right thing. He could have simply told the student: “Fine, I will use any pronoun you prefer”. That would have defused the situation without a lot of litigation. But Meriwether wanted to make a point, that his religious beliefs trump the First Amendment rights of students to be referred to by any pronoun they prefer. It’s a sad commentary when the courts will give more weight to religious dogma than to the civil rights of students.

    1. Meriwether offered to call all his students by the pronouns they preferred so long as the syllabus stated that he was doing so because the university required it, not because he believed that a person could choose their sex. Seems like a perfect solution. Why did the administrators reject it?

    2. Prof. Merriweather’s religious beliefs ARE a civil right, as is his ability to speak a freely as he wishes. A person’s pronoun use is subjective at best and can change on a whim. A person can ‘demand’ all he/she/it wants but that does not mean that someone has to follow.

    3. No one has the right to force others to use their language choice, because no one has the right to not be offended. Don’t like what I chose to call you? I suggest you drop the course and take another.

  13. The problem here is not the students. From time immemorial students have asserted ideas perceived to be radical, outlandish or absurd. The combination of youth, lack of experience and limited responsibilities makes this possible. The problem lies with administrators and faculty, who either agree with them, are afraid to stand up to them or find it in their interest to go along with them. And this rise of wokeness is not confined any longer to academia. Christopher Rufo has documented the prominence of woke ideology in government, major corporations and public school systems. It has reached into classical music, as Heather MacDonald has thoroughly documented. It has penetrated medicine, and even geology and mathematics. It appears to have taken hold in the Democratic Party. How this “march through the institutions” has occurred and why are questions worth considering. If not stopped, the success of our economy, society and polity will be undermined.

  14. Sometimes I’ll be reading a news articles and the author uses the wrong pronoun.. and at first I think it’s just a mistake or typo.. then I’ll read on and realize this woke flake is seriously referring to some cross-dressing man-freak as a “they” and “them” instead of a him or a “her” even, lol. This stuff would have been published at The Onion website a few years ago. It’s hilariously sad and pathetic.

  15. (OT)

    Trump on the Arizona Audit

    “The Fake News is lying about the Arizona audit report! The leaked report conclusively shows there were enough fraudulent votes, mystery votes, and fake votes to change the outcome of the election 4 or 5 times over. The number includes 23,344 mail-in ballots, despite the person no longer living at that address. Phantom voters! The official canvass does not even match who voted, off by 11,592—more than the entire Presidential Election margin. Voters who voted in multiple counties totaled 10,342, and 2,382 ballots came from people who no longer lived in Maricopa County. There were also 2,592 “more duplicate ballots than original ballots.” Just those fraudulent ballots alone total 50,252, and is fraud many more times than the so-called margin of “victory,” which was only 10,457. In addition, election data appears to have been intentionally deleted, and ballot images were “corrupt or missing.” This is not even the whole state of Arizona, but only Maricopa County. It would only get worse!

    “There is fraud and cheating in Arizona and it must be criminally investigated! More is coming out in the hearing today.”


    1. Well, you better take all the information you have and give it to all the elected republican officials and federal judges including the SCOTUS and see what they can do. And don’t forget the local and state republican officials. And also don’t forget top shelf lawyers like Powell, Wood and Rudy G. And for even more “proof” throw in “My Pillow Guy” Then go on every TV show you can get, and show the nation what it looks like when someone like you does not accept reality and facts. You’ll be in good company with those three for sure.

    2. It is not clear how many of the 50k votes that have been questioned were in fact invalid. Determining how many requires further investigation, and that is up to the AG. It is also not clear which candidate would benefit from some of these votes being declared invalid. All these problems stem from the expansion of mail in voting, which is a bad idea. It is almost unheard of in Europe, except in limited circumstances.

      1. It is absolutely clear that the left is despotic and will cheat and steal to gain power. What happened in the election was unnecessary nonsense. Do not expect free and fair elections from the left.

  16. Each of us is born as male or female. And that we remain for our lifetime. No amount of hormones or meds and no surgeries will ever change the identity at birth. Now … if someone’s “brain” tells them they are not what they were born, they need to seek mental health treatment – and let the rest of us live our “normal” lives … rather than be forced to accept them and treat them as what they are not..

      1. We have male based on biologic characteristics
        We have female based on biologic characteristics
        We have intersex based on biologic characteristics

        We all have first names and last names

        You, indeed, have a problem, but you have names that can be used. You don’t like some of those names. Too bad.

      2. ANON Thet said you were born male or female. Just look at the X & Y chromosomes and ascertain. Your questioin to him is asinine, is my assessement of it. There are two genders.

          1. Biology is complex, but only stupid people want to make it more complex. Destructive personalities, like yourself, are faced by working people on a regular basis, but they should be let to the side so that competent people can get on with their business.

            1. Your ad hominem only reflects on you.

              If you wish to discuss the biology, do so without resort to insult.

              1. Anonymous the Stupid, there is no insult in pointing out the truth especially when you are a destructive individual. The only thing to surpass your destructive nature is your Stupidity. Both of those characteristics weigh heavily against what you say.

      3. At best, such individuals are a borderline case. But you don’t use borderline cases to erase the reality of clear-cut cases, or to invalidate the science of grammar.

  17. Self-pronouning?!

    While I’m at it, let me self-dub as the reincarnation of Alexander the Great.

    Psychotic behavior used to be grounds for a mental health referral (and at minimum, a semester’s leave). Now it’s a protected class, and grounds for firing those who call it what it is.

    Every time I think that this culture cannot get more absurd, someone proves me wrong.

    1. Better yet – Imagine someone thinks they are a bird of prey. If that person was hungry and decided to jump off the roof to fly after there next meal, wouldn’t self-identity enforcing leftists demand you allow it because we must respect their right to self-identify and act in the manner of that self-identity. Sometimes it requires positing something ridiculous to point out the ridiculous already around us.

  18. The aggressive behavior of Doe makes it clear that this gender thing is about power, not identity. These confused students can exert a bit of power over a professor by jumping on this anti-scientific

    Yes. I commented on the thread about the naming of the Wuhan virus. On the notion, to use the term was ‘offensive’. The naming narrative is just nothing but a power exercise. The silly gender thing, is also a power exercise.

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