A small public university in Ohio agreed last week to pay $400,000 for one of its professors after he refused to use a transgender student's preferred pronouns.
In 2018, Shawnee State University, located in Portsmouth, about 85 miles south of Columbus, warned Nicholas Meriwether, a philosophy professor, about not using the pronouns.
In a federal lawsuit against the university this year, Meriwether, who is an evangelical Christian, claimed that officials violated his constitutional rights by forcing him to speak in a way that contradicts his religious beliefs.
The settlement of the case follows a three-year legal battle that ended last year, with the 6th U.S. The Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Meriwether's favor. Meriwether's legal representation, the Alliance Defending Freedom, applauded the agreement to compensate him.
In a statement last week, Travis Barham, senior counsel for the alliance, said that the case forced us to defend what used to be a common belief - that nobody should be forced to contradict their core beliefs just to keep their job. Dr. Meriwether went out of his way to accommodate his students and treat them with dignity and respect, but his university punished him because he wouldn't endorse an ideology he believes is false. ADF has stated that Meriwether's settlement included a settlement for his attorney fees and a guarantee from the university that he will never be required to use pronouns that conflict with his or her biological sex.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian law firm based in Arizona, has a decades long history of litigating against LGBTQ rights, and has been labeled an Anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a designation ADF disputes. According to its website, the group aims to secure generational wins to ensure that the law respects God's creative order for marriage, the family and human sexuality. The funding of the ADF has doubled over the last decade, from $34.5 million in 2011 to more than 76 million in 2021.
In a statement last week, Shawnee State said that it adamantly denies that it deprived Dr. Meriwether of his free speech rights or his right to freely exercise his religion, and called the settlement an economic decision. The university said that we will stand behind a student's right to a discrimination-free learning environment, as well as the rights of faculty, visitors, students and employees to express their ideas and beliefs. Over the course of the lawsuit, it became clear that the case was being used to advance divisive social and political agendas at a cost to the university and its students. That cost is better spent on fulfilling Shawnee State's mission of service to students, families and community.