6th Circuit rules in favor of Christian prof on use of pronouns

6th Circuit rules in favor of Christian prof on use of pronouns

Prof. Eric Rasmusen of the IU Kelley School of Business calls attention, today, to the Sixth Court of Appeals review of the lower court decision in Meriwether v. Hartop, et al. The substance of the case is whether a professor addressing students in the classroom of a public university may be forced to use pronouns contrary to the student’s sex at birth.

Philosophy Prof. Nicholas K. Meriwether of Shawnee State University, OH, is the plaintiff. Prof. Meriwether cites his own religious belief, saying it is his church’s teaching that “sex is fixed in each person from the moment of conception, and that it cannot be changed, regardless of an individual’s feelings or desires.”

Writing for the Sixth Circuit Court, Judge Anul Thapar reversed the lower court on both the issue of free speech and the issue of free exercise of religion. This is a significant victory for all Americans who recognize the fundamental attacks on First Amendment rights being perpetrated across public life, but particularly at this point in time, by the monopolistic technocrats and their media elites allies increasingly squelching Christian faith and witness across social media.

Clearly, Christians have both a prayer and a hope if they take such cases to court. The precedents are longstanding and clear; even thrilling, I might say.

But as I’ve pointed out before, the real problem we have concerning Christian witness in the United States today is mostly self-censorship. It’s not nearly so much the threat of firing and loss of income that silences Christian faith as fear of the disapproval of our colleagues, friends, family, compounded by the absence of any (shall we use the word much abused by effeminate Christian leaders) robust witness from the pulpits and pastors we sit under each and every Lord’s Day.

In other words, we should rejoice at the 6th Circuit’s decision in this case, but we have bigger problems and larger fish to fry than civil litigation over First Amendment protections.

It is the church herself and her pastors who are scared to death of being viewed as intolerant haters who ceased teaching, preaching, and and confessing God’s order of sexuality; and even when doing so, did it mincingly and prancingly under that inscrutable but ubiquitous equivocating coinage, complementarian.

What about the rest of us sitting under this flaccid preaching?

We are what we eat. We got the message and never risk confessing our Christian faith except in secret private places. We are ashamed of Jesus’ words.

Anyhow, out there in the public courts, at least, there are some judges who have the faith and courage to acknowledge and defend the truth. Not to blather on about being robust, but simply standing firmly.

I have excerpted the following from Thapar’s opinion. (The bold text is my own emphasis.) Really, though, you’d be encouraged by reading the entire opinion:

Simply put, professors at public universities retain First Amendment protections at least when engaged in core academic functions, such as teaching and scholarship. p. 13

One final point worth considering: 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.” That cannot be. “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe” such orthodoxy. p. 14

Second, they argue that even if there is an academic-freedom exception to Garcetti, it does not protect Meriwether’s use of titles and pronouns in the classroom. As they would have it, the use of pronouns has nothing to do with the academic-freedom interests in the substance of classroom instruction. But that is not true. Any teacher will tell you that choices about how to lead classroom discussion shape the content of the instruction enormously. That is especially so here because Meriwether’s choices touch on gender identity—a hotly contested matter of public concern that “often” comes up during class discussion in Meriwether’s political philosophy courses. pp. 14-15

The need for the free exchange of ideas in the college classroom is unlike that in other public workplace settings. And a professor’s in-class speech to his students is anything but speech by an ordinary government employee. Indeed, in the college classroom there are three critical interests at stake (all supporting robust speech protection): (1) the students’ interest in receiving informed opinion, (2) the professor’s right to disseminate his own opinion, and (3) the public’s interest in exposing our future leaders to different viewpoints. pp. 14-15

The university …wants its professors to use pronouns to communicate a message: People can have a gender identity inconsistent with their sex at birth. But Meriwether does not agree with that message, and he does not want to communicate it to his students. That’s not a matter of classroom management; that’s a matter of academic speech. p.16

Never before have titles and pronouns been scrutinized as closely as they are today for their power to validate—or invalidate—someone’s perceived sex or gender identity. Meriwether took a side in that debate. Through his continued refusal to address Doe as a woman, he advanced a viewpoint on gender identity. See Dambrot, 55 F.3d at 1189. Meriwether’s speech manifested his belief that “sex is fixed in each person from the moment of conception, and that it cannot be changed, regardless of an individual’s feelings or desires.” p. 18

Start with one of the individuals Meriwether alleges was involved in the action against him—Department Chair Jennifer Pauley. Meriwether came to her to discuss his religious concerns about the new policy. Pauley might have responded with tolerance, or at least neutral objectivity. She did not. Instead, she remarked that religion “oppresses students” and said that even its “presence” at universities is “counterproductive.” R. 34, Pg. ID 1473. Christians in particular, she said, were “primarily motivated out of fear.” Id. In her view, “Christian doctrines . . . should not be taught.” Id. And for good measure, she added that Christian professors “should be banned” from teaching courses on Christianity—knowing that Meriwether had done so for decades. Id. Neutral and non-hostile? As alleged, no. In fact, it has the makings of the very religious intolerances that “gave concern to those who drafted the Free Exercise Clause.” pp. 23-24

Meriwether respectfully sought an accommodation that would both protect his religious beliefs and make Doe feel comfortable. In response, the university derided him and equated his good-faith convictions with racism. p. 25

Finally, the university argues that Meriwether simply could have complied with the alternative it offered him: Don’t use any pronouns or sex-based terms at all. This offer, the university says, would not violate Meriwether’s religious beliefs. But such an offer has two problems. First, it would prohibit Meriwether from speaking in accordance with his belief that sex and gender are conclusively linked. See Riley v. Nat’l Fed’n of Blind, 487 U.S. 781, 796 (1988) (explaining that the “difference between compelled speech and compelled silence . . . is without constitutional significance”).


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About The Author

7

Pastor of Trinity Reformed Church since 1996, Tim and Mary Lee have five children and lots of grandchildren. Tim's books include "Daddy Tried," The Grace of Shame," "Church Reformed," and "Elders Reformed." Tim spent ten years in the PC(USA) and twenty in the PCA. He's now a member of Evangel Presbytery.

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