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Philosophy professor Nicholas Meriwether is continuing his legal fight against Shawnee State University, arguing that the school's insistence that he refer to a student by their preferred pronouns violates his First Amendment rights.
The case was heard Thursday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit after it was dismissed by a judge earlier this year.
According to the lawsuit, on the first day of Meriwether's political philosophy class, in January 2018, he answered a student's question with, "Yes, sir."
That student, identified in the lawsuit as "Jane Doe," approached Meriwether after class to inform him that she is a transgender female and prefers feminine pronouns (she/her).
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Meriwether informed the student that he didn't know if he could comply with her request, then she responded that she would try to get him fired if he didn't, the suit claims.
Meriwether started referring to the student by just her last name, but the student complained he "did not address her as 'Ms. ___' or 'Miss ___' in line with his practice of addressing other female members in the class."
Roberta Milliken, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at SSU, eventually put a warning letter in Meriwether's personnel file, the suit claimed.
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"Shawnee State is dedicated to providing an educational environment that does not discriminate against any individual due to a variety of traits, including gender identity," Miliken wrote in the letter, according to the lawsuit.
"Given that you persisted in treating the complainant differently than other students in your class throughout spring term because of her gender identity, you engaged in behavior that is prohibited by the university," the letter allegedly read.
Meriwether says he is an evangelical Christian who "objects to communicating what he believes to be 'a University-mandated ideological message regarding gender identity that he does not believe' and which he believes 'contradicts (and would force him to violate) his sincerely held religious beliefs.'"
The university argues that Meriwether's First Amendment rights were not violated because his "refusal to use a pronoun or title in addressing one student in his classroom was not 'speech' protected by the First Amendment' as a matter of law."
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SSU officials contest that they've done everything possible to protect the rights of their students and faculty.
“We have maintained throughout this case that the facts show that every effort was made by Shawnee State to respect the rights of free speech and protect all individuals from discrimination, inside and outside of the classroom," a SSU spokesperson told Fox News in a statement.
"We remain optimistic as we await the Court’s decision.”
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