When the university punished Dr. Meriwether, its message was loud and clear: You must endorse the university’s favored ideology or be punished. There is no room for dissent. But universities are meant to be a marketplace of ideas, not an assembly line for one type of thought. With its actions, Shawnee State ignored this fundamental truth as well as the Constitution. And the 6th Circuit’s decision sent a strong message to universities: you must respect the First Amendment rights of all professors, and that means you cannot force them to say things they do not believe. Dr. Meriwether took a stand for his First Amendment rights and secured a victory for every American’s right to speak in accordance with their beliefs.
Dr. Nicholas Meriwether enjoys a spirited debate. As a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio, there is plenty of that to go around in his classroom. And he is not afraid to voice his disagreement or bring up an entirely different viewpoint.
That’s part of what makes him a great professor. In his class, students are exposed to new ideas and opposing viewpoints. They have the opportunity to grapple with what they believe and why they believe it.
Most people think that’s what universities—the “marketplace of ideas”—are supposed to be.
But not according to Shawnee State officials. Now, the professor finds himself involved in a very different kind of debate—on the opposite side of the courtroom from his university, after it tried to shut down the free exchange of ideas by forcing him to endorse an ideology that he does not believe.
Let’s take a deeper look at his case and the freedoms at stake.
Who is Dr. Nicholas Meriwether?
Dr. Meriwether has served as a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University for over 20 years with an unblemished record. He is serious about creating an atmosphere of mutual respect in his classroom.
He is also serious about his beliefs. As a Christian, he strives to live and work consistently with his faith. In fact, his core beliefs are why he’s devoted his career to education.
Many of Dr. Meriwether’s students appreciate how he challenged them in the classroom and brought ideas to the table that were different than their own. As one student wrote:
You and I saw eye-to-eye on very little and that made those arguments all the more valuable to me. If you had only made a half-hearted attempt at a counterpoint or (far worse) neglected to even mention an opposing position in order to spare my feelings, you would have been fundamentally undermining my education. I thank you for showing me enough respect to bring your “A-Game” to every in-class debate.
Unfortunately, not every student felt the same way about encountering differing viewpoints in Dr. Meriwether’s class.