A U.S. court has sided with a university professor who refused to use the preferred pronouns of a transgender student.
The Shawnee State University in Ohio disciplined Nicholas Meriwether, a professor of philosophy, triggering a legal battle.
Citing his religious beliefs, Meriwhether he did not follow the institution’s policy for university personnel to use pronouns that reflect a student’s claimed gender identity.
Throughout the semester, the professor used the person’s last name to refer to the student, who identifies as a woman.
Meriwether was disciplined and sued Shawnee State, claiming the university violated his freedom of speech and expression.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio at Cincinnati dismissed the suit for lack of standing.
The professor elevated the matter before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and scored a victory.
The appeal court ruled that the Shawnee State “punished a professor for his speech on a hotly contested issue”.
It did so despite constitutional protections, the court explained.
“The district court dismissed the professor’s free-speech and free-exercise claims. We see things differently and reverse,” the appeal court declared on March 26, 2021.
The court also noted that if “professors lacked free-speech protections when teaching, a university would wield alarming power to compel ideological conformity”.
“A university president could require a pacifist to declare that war is just, a civil rights icon to condemn the Freedom Riders, a believer to deny the existence of God, or a Soviet émigré to address his students as ‘comrades’,” the court stated.
The Straight sought comment from two of the most prominent voices in discussions around gender identity in Canada.
Not surprisingly, Morgane Oger and Meghan Murphy had opposite reactions to this court ruling in the U.S.
Oger is a transgender woman and advocate of transgender rights.
Murphy is the founder and editor of the Feminist Current site.
“I’m very disapointed by the decision the U.S. Sixth Circuit took to say that a worker delivering a service to a student, which is basically a customer, has the right to…use his beliefs to make an environment that is toxic,” Oger told the Straight in a phone interview.
Oger noted that what is also interesting is that ruling “sounds like” the teaching environment in which the transwoman-student was put into was “not toxic enough, not awful enough”.
Oger uses the prounous ‘she’ and ‘her’ for self-identification.
“I think it would be very interesting to have a case like this in Canada,” she said.
Oger said that she would like to see someone like Jordan Peterson answer questions in court about the subject of preferred pronouns.
Peterson is an author and psychology professor at the University of Toronto.
The academic rose to public prominence in part because of his stance against the use of pronouns preferred by transgender people.
“In Canada, gender identity or expression is explicitly protected, just like sex, just disability, just like other protections,” Oger said.
She was referring to Bill C-16, a 2017 legislation that included gender identity and expression as a protected ground against discrimination and hate propaganda.
Murphy, for her part, agreed with the court’s ruling.
“I don’t think anyone should be forced to use prefered pronouns, and I think that doing so is effectively the same as forcing a person to lie,” Murphy told the Straight by phone.
Murphy refuses to use pronouns preferred by transgender people.
“If someone is male, I use ‘he’. If someone is female, I use ‘she’, and it’s not to be mean or disrespectful,” she said.
“It’s really because I care about the truth, and about material reality,” Murphy continued, “and I think that it’s perfectly fine for a person who’s male…to…feel more connected to femininity or wear women’s clothes, [or] even to get cosmetic surgery, if they’re an adult who wish to do that.”
“I’m not interested in intervening in that. I support people living their lives in ways that they feel comfortable with,” she said.
“But that doesn’t mean that everyone else has to go along with the idea that a person can change sex, that a man can be a woman or vice versa,” Murphy added.More